Baby Born via Mitochondrial Donation Gives Hope to Families with Genetic Mitochondrial Disorders

 Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child, and genetically mutated mitochondria can carry an array of incurable disorders such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, neurological problems, seizures, vision and hearing loss, muscle weakness, cognitive and developmental delays, and early death. Earlier this year, for the first time in the United Kingdom (UK), a baby was born with DNA from three people in a procedure designed to prevent the passing of debilitating and fatal genetic disorders from parent to child.

The process, known as mitochondrial donation therapy (MDT), has been touted as the greatest advancement in assisted reproduction technology (ART) since the development of IVF and has the potential to give women who have faulty mitochondria (tiny battery-like structures that generate energy in cells) a chance to have a healthy baby without the risk of passing down their own mitochondrial genetic mutations.

According to The Guardian, which first reported the story, doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Centre in the UK pioneered the groundbreaking procedure, and in 2015, the UK became the first country to pass legislation allowing MDT on a case-by-case basis. Once intended parents are approved for the procedure, MDT allows them to use healthy donor mitochondria instead of their own mutated mitochondria.

So far, the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved at least 30 cases for MDT, although it has not provided specific numbers for participants or births, stating that doing so might breach patient confidentiality. Sarah Norcross, the director of Progress Educational Trust, a charity that improves choices for people affected by infertility and genetic conditions, told The Guardian, “It is also very important that we respect the privacy of children with donated mitochondria, and their parents, not least because these parents are likely to have had prior experience of illness and bereavement in their family.”

The UK is not the first country to create babies from MDT, The Guardian also reported, although the UK is the first to do so in a regulated environment. In 2016, the world’s first MDT birth was reported by doctors in the United States who traveled to Mexico to perform the procedure on a Jordanian woman who carried mitochondrial DNA that caused the fatal condition called Leigh Syndrome. The woman and her husband sought help after having four miscarriages, a child who died at the age of 6, and another who died at 8 months old. The procedure was done without regulations raising ethical questions from peers.

What are Mitochondria?

Mitochondria are organelles that are often referred to as the powerhouses of cells that generate the energy our bodies need to live and function. In essence, when mitochondria do not function properly, cells do not get the energy they need to operate normally. Symptoms of mitochondrial disease are most noticeable in parts of the body that use energy the most, such as the heart, nervous system, muscles, and brain, according to Healthline.

How does Mitochondrial Donation Therapy Work?

The process uses genetic material from three people, the sperm of the father, the egg from the mother, and the egg from a donor. According to The Guardian, during the several-step process, the eggs from the mother and donor are fertilized with sperm from the father, and then in the earliest stages of development, the nucleus of the mother’s fertilized egg is swapped with the donor’s nucleus leaving behind the faulty mitochondrial DNA of the mother and using the donor’s egg with the healthy mitochondrial DNA. The result is an egg that has a full set of chromosomes from the intended parents but carries the healthy mitochondria of the donor. Over 99% of the resulting DNA of the fertilized egg comes from the intended parents while less than one percent of DNA is from the egg donor, which is not enough to affect individual characteristics, per the Daily Mail.

Lifelong Heartache for Families with Mitochondrial DNA Mutations

Michelle Williams, a mother of two, told IFLG during an interview that she had no idea that she or her family members carried faulty mitochondrial genes until her daughter Miranda was diagnosed at age 7 with myoclonic epilepsy with ragged-red fibers (MERRF), a rare mitochondrial disorder. She said that looking back before the diagnosis, there were signs, such as when her daughter failed to meet certain milestones, was unable to walk heel-to-toe, and exhibited clenching fists, breathing issues, and a lack of balance that was often chalked up to clumsiness. At the time, Williams and her family had not heard of mitochondrial DNA or genetic mutations pertaining to mitochondria.

After several misdiagnoses, which included an incorrect diagnosis of asthma, a genetics doctor finally tested Miranda for mitochondrial disorders and confirmed she had MERRF. This prompted Williams and her sister, who also battles health issues, to get tested as well, revealing positive results for the mutation in both sisters. Sadly, over the course of the next eight years, Williams slowly watched her daughter lose the ability to walk, breathe on her own without a ventilator, eat on her own, use her fingers, talk, or smile. In the end, her body didn’t have enough energy to keep moving and functioning. Miranda passed away at the age of 15 from respiratory and heart failure, mouthing to her mother in her final days, “Mommy, I want a hug.”

Williams goes on to say that had she known she was a carrier of mitochondrial DNA mutations, she may not have had any children and is glad she did not have another child after Miranda.

What Mitochondrial Donation Therapy May Mean for Future Families

William’s story is just one of many that shed light on how unhealthy mitochondria can affect entire families with illness, loss, and life-long bereavement and how MDT may provide hope for intended parents who are carriers of mitochondrial disorders. Peter Thompson, chief executive at HFEA, tells The Guardian, “MDT offers families with severe inherited mitochondrial illness the possibility of a healthy child.”

Williams went on to say when speaking about her family, “My nieces also carry the gene, and I am 100 percent thrilled that the UK has created this amazing technology. I hope that someday it will be available in the US so that my nieces are able to use it. They are so scared to have any children in the future, as we all watched our Miranda girl slowly deteriorate. This opens up the possibility that they can have healthy children without the fear of them having a short or suffering life.”

Although long-term follow-up, ongoing research, and an established regulatory system are essential, we are optimistic that this new evolution in assisted reproductive technology will help many intended parents have biological children who would otherwise not have considered it in the past for fear of passing on severe mitochondrial disorders. Advancements in ART continue to break down barriers for thousands of people who thought parenthood would never be possible. ART produces hope, and for our team of experienced legal professionals at International Fertility Law Group, hope is what we are here for.

Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

Los Angeles

5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 645

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone:  +1 323 331 9343

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

New York

501 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1900

New York, NY 10017

Phone:  +1 844 400 2016

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.