August 26, 2009

New method may prevent disease inheritance

U.S. researchers say they have used implanted donor eggs to prevent the inheritance of a class of mitochondrial disorders in non-human primates.

Scientists at the Oregon Health Science University in Beaverton, Ore., said they transferred hereditary material from the egg of a primate mother into a donor female's egg from which the hereditary material had been emptied. The resulting eggs were fertilized with donor sperm and implanted in the mothers, producing offspring having mitochondria only from the donated egg.

Mitochondria are small structures inside cells that provide energy for the cell's activities. Mitochondria have their own DNA, and are inherited only through the mother's egg cells.

The researchers said defective mitochondria are associated with diabetes, some cancers, infertility and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.

Pending further research, the findings hold the potential of allowing a couple to have a child who is biologically their own, but is free of any conditions associated with defects in maternal mitochondria, said Dr. Duane Alexander of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the research.

The study appears online in the journal Nature.