As of 2022, Trisomy 21 is the most common type of trisomy, or a condition where the person has three instead of the normal two copies of one of the chromosomes. Trisomy occurs when abnormal cell division takes place leading to an extra copy of a chromosome. That extra copy of chromosome 21 results in a congenital disorder called Down syndrome, which is characterized by a cluster of specific traits including intellectual disabilities, atypical facial appearance, and a high risk of heart disease. Trisomy 21 changes the way in which a fetus’s brain develops, which accounts for many intellectual disabilities. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, estimates Trisomy 21 occurs approximately once in every 700 human births, averaging about 6,000 live Down syndrome births every year in the US. Down syndrome is a lifelong developmental condition, but there are many resources available to those living with Down syndrome and their families.

In 2009, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Masahito Tachibana, and their team of researchers developed the technology of mitochondrial gene replacement therapy to prevent the transmission of a mitochondrial disease from mother to offspring in primates. Mitochondria contain some of the body's genetic material, called mitochondrial DNA. Occasionally, the mitochondrial DNA possesses mutations. Mitalipov and Tachibana, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, Oregon, developed a technique to remove the nucleus of the mother and place it in a donor oocyte, or immature egg cell, with healthy mitochondria. The resulting offspring contain the genetic material of three separate individuals and do not have the disease. Mitalipov and Tachibana's technology of mitochondrial gene replacement built on decades of research by different scientists and enables researchers to prevent the transmission of human mitochondrial diseases from mother to offspring.

In 2007, Dennis Lo and his colleagues used digital polymerase chain reaction or PCR to detect trisomy 21 in maternal blood, validating the method as a means to detect fetal chromosomal aneuploidies, or an abnormal number of chromosomes in a cell. The team conducted their research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, and at the Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. Because small amounts of fetal DNA appear in maternal blood during pregnancy, Lo and his team hypothesized that they could detect fetal chromosomal aneuploidy trisomy 21, or Down’s syndrome, in a sample of maternal blood. The group diagnosed Down’s syndrome in unborn fetuses by first taking a maternal blood sample, then amplifying the small amounts of fetal DNA in the maternal blood using digital PCR, and applying two genetic methods to that sample. Lo and his colleagues’ experiment demonstrated the accuracy of a novel, noninvasive method for fetal chromosomal aneuploidy testing that can enable people to make informed decisions about their pregnancies.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Masahito Tachibana, and their team of researchers replaced the mitochondrial genes of primate embryonic stem cells via spindle transfer. Spindle replacement, also called spindle transfer, is the process of removing the genetic material found in the nucleus of one egg cell, or oocyte, and placing it in another egg that had its nucleus removed. Mitochondria are organelles found in all cells and contain some of the cell’s genetic material. Mutations in the mitochondrial DNA can lead to neurodegenerative and muscle diseases. Mitalipov and Tachibana used spindle replacement to produce healthy offspring from an egg with mutated mitochondria in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). The experiment showed that spindle transfer eliminated the chance of transmission of mitochondrial diseases from the affected primates to their offspring, offering the potential to eliminate mitochondrial diseases in humans.

Subscribe to Chromosome Aberrations