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.

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.

Mitochondrial diseases in humans result when the small organelles called mitochondria, which exist in all human cells, fail to function normally. The mitochondria contain their own mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) separate from the cell's nuclear DNA (nDNA). The main function of mitochondria is to produce energy for the cell. They also function in a diverse set of mechanisms such as calcium hemostasis, cell signaling, regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis), and biosynthesis of heme proteins that carry oxygen. When mitochondria fail to fulfill those functions properly in the cell, many different maladies, including death, can occur. Humans inherit mitochondria from the mother through the egg cell, and all the mtDNA molecules in a person are identical to each other. But the mutation rate is much higher in the mtDNA than in nuclear DNA, and some individuals may have more than one type of mtDNA. As egg cells develop, they divide via a process called meiosis. As egg cells divide, mitochondria of different types can randomly segregate in some new cells but not in others. As a result, two offspring from the same female might differ in their types of mitochondria. Random amounts of the two mitochondria types can lead to some offspring inheriting a mitochondrial disease or developmental abnormalities while others are normal.

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