Media labels – Three-parent IVF

The alarmingly labelled ‘three-parent IVF’ treatment has been discussed in the media over the last week following the publication of research in Nature by researchers from Newcastle. (1)

The technique they studied used abnormally fertilised embryos (1 or 3 pronuclear zygotes that are not usually used in IVF) to see if the pronuclei could be transferred without taking any of the cytoplasmic mitochondrial DNA with it. They concluded:

Our studies show that in human zygotes, pronuclear transfer has the potential to “treat” human mtDNA disease at a genetic level. The recent development of metaphase II spindle transfer has confirmed in non-human primates that this closely related method also holds great promise.

Somewhere in the transfer of this information from science journal to mainstream media the ‘three parent’ label became attached with its unnatural connotations. Is this the best way to describe the technique? I think the issue is with the word ‘pronuclear’. The pronucleus is the male or female half of the genome that combine to form the nucleus of the fertilised embryo.

To avoid the tedious detail of having to explain zygotes and pronuclei (along with explaining mitochondrial DNA) the journalists prefer the literary trick of summarising it all in a new shocking name. “Three-parent IVF” certainly sounds more attention grabbing than “pronuclear transfer” which sounds like something that physicists would do at CERN.

1) Craven L, Tuppen HA, Greggains GD, et al. Pronuclear transfer in human embryos to prevent transmission of mitochondrial DNA disease. Nature. 2010;465(7294):82-85.