Four women have given birth to five children through an experimental in vitro fertilization treatment in which a mother’s own mitochondria are injected into her eggs, a fertility clinic in Osaka said Wednesday.
“Through the injection of mitochondria, the quality of fertilized eggs improved and the pregnancy rate was increased,” said Yoshiharu Morimoto, chairman of the clinic, adding the actual mechanism of improvement was not yet known.
The clinic said it will monitor the health of the children until they reach the age 5 to confirm the safety of the treatment. The children, two of whom are twins, were born between February and June to the women aged between 27 and 36.
The first successful births in Japan using the treatment follow more than 250 attempts in Canada and Europe, where 30 births have been recorded.
While the treatment is said to be effective in heightening chances of pregnancy, some experts voiced concern over the unverified safety of the procedure.
“There is no basis to say that this treatment led to the births of the children,” said Osamu Ishihara, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Saitama Medical University.
“Abnormalities are often found in the nuclei of older women’s eggs and mitochondria are not thought to improve their quality,” Ishihara said.
The clinic conducted the treatment after gaining approval for clinical research from the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology in December 2015.
According to HORAC Grand Front Osaka Clinic, it treated 21 women with the technique, collecting ovarian mitochondria and injecting them into eggs with sperm. Mitochondria are energy-producing organelles existing in most cells.
The mitochondria were collected from 33 women aged between 27 and 46, and fertilized eggs with injected mitochondria were placed in the uteri of 21 of the women.
The treatment method was developed by an American company, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved it yet.
The price of the treatment is around ¥1.7 million per person, according to the clinic.
Tetsuya Ishii, professor of bioethics at Hokkaido University, was also critical of the procedure at the Osaka clinic.
“The treatment does not stand as a clinical study as we cannot prove the effectiveness of the method due to a lack of comparison with cases in which this kind of treatment was not applied,” Ishii said, adding that the health ministry and the obstetrics society should not have approved such an unproven treatment.
He also questioned why the clinic charged so much when the effectiveness and safety of the treatment has not been corroborated.
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