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Fertility doctor, who pioneered way for older women to have healthy pregnancies, blocked by the FDA


Dr John Zhang has been revolutionizing the fertility world with his production of a 'three-parent' baby

Dr John Zhang has been revolutionizing the fertility world with his production of a ‘three-parent’ baby

A doctor responsible for helping a 49-year-old woman becoming the oldest to carry her own child now claims that 60-year-old women will soon be able to follow suit. 

Dr John Zhang, founder of the New Hope Fertility Clinic and biotech start-up Darwin Life in Manhattan, has been revolutionizing the fertility world with his production of a ‘three-parent’ baby.

He first made waves in 2009 when Zhang worked with a 49-year-old woman to help her give birth, the Washington Post reported.

Zhang transferred a genetically ‘abnormal’ embryo – known for having the wrong number of chromosomes and considered nonviable – to the woman who was able to give birth to a healthy baby girl. 

The Chinese native – who studied in the United Kingdom – worked with a Jordanian couple who had lost six babies in hopes of removing the neurological Leigh syndrome from their future child.  

Zhang extracted the woman's nuclear DNA, responsible for things such as physical appearance and other major traits. He then placed the DNA into a healthy donor egg and fertilized it with sperm from the woman's husband. They were able to give birth to a baby boy who did not have the Leigh syndrome

Zhang extracted the woman’s nuclear DNA, responsible for things such as physical appearance and other major traits. He then placed the DNA into a healthy donor egg and fertilized it with sperm from the woman’s husband. They were able to give birth to a baby boy who did not have the Leigh syndrome

He ran the New Hope Fertility Clinic and biotech start-up Darwin Life in Manhattan but was forced to stop the procedure when the FDA sent a warning letter

He ran the New Hope Fertility Clinic and biotech start-up Darwin Life in Manhattan but was forced to stop the procedure when the FDA sent a warning letter

Zhang extracted the woman’s nuclear DNA, responsible for things such as physical appearance and other major traits. 

He then placed the DNA into a healthy donor egg and fertilized it with sperm from the woman’s husband. They were able to give birth to a baby boy who did not have the Leigh syndrome. 

‘If there is a gene which causes a problem, it would be washed out through natural evolution. Eventually, these kind of babies are not going to be born. That is how nature selects,’ Zhang said. ‘But if we can alter the gene, why can’t we alter it?’

Zhang was soon dubbed the ‘fertility rebel’ by the journal Nature and the world of fertility medicine. 

According to a FDA-issued warning letter, Congress prohibited the genetic editing of heritable traits in human embryos in 2015. Zhang didn't have the necessary approvals to conduct his research, they asserted

According to a FDA-issued warning letter, Congress prohibited the genetic editing of heritable traits in human embryos in 2015. Zhang didn’t have the necessary approvals to conduct his research, they asserted

‘He’s way out there in terms of research,’ said Monica Halem, the woman who gave birth in her late 40s. ‘He’s not afraid to try certain things, and that’s what we need in fertility right now.’ 

When Zhang offered to begin doing the process for older women, he quickly ran into issues with the Food and Drug Administration. In August, the FDA ordered Zhang to stop marketing the technology, sequentially ending the two companies’ work. 

According to a FDA-issued warning letter, Congress prohibited the genetic editing of heritable traits in human embryos in 2015. Zhang didn’t have the necessary approvals to conduct his research, they asserted.

While the doctor had created the three-parent embryo in the U.S., he had transferred it to the woman’s uterus in Mexico. 

While the doctor had created the three-parent embryo in the U.S., he had transferred it to the woman's uterus in Mexico

While the doctor had created the three-parent embryo in the U.S., he had transferred it to the woman’s uterus in Mexico

Still, the FDA claimed ‘such human subject research cannot legally be performed in the United States. Nor is exportation permitted.’

Zhang’s companies decided to overhaul their marketing materials and vowed that they wouldn’t offer the service. 

An FDA spokeswoman also confirmed that the issue had been resolved. 

New Hope and Darwin Life ‘worked closely with and will continue to work within the FDA guidelines,’ spokesman Geoffrey Hawes added. 

The spokesman did note, however, that the procedure was still being allowed in Britain, Ukraine and China. Hawes also detailed that researchers would push for other nations ‘to allow further research in this field.’ 

A spokesman with Zhang's company stated that the procedure was still allowed in Britain, Ukraine and China

A spokesman with Zhang’s company stated that the procedure was still allowed in Britain, Ukraine and China

‘My personal opinion is very simple,’ Zhang said. ‘Any technology will eventually benefit mankind and should be allowed. Look at history: People were against antibiotics, general anesthesia, vaccines.’ 

Zhang was born in Hangzhou, China and would attend the Zhejiang University School of Medicaine in China.

He would eventually get his PhD at the University of Cambridge and did his obstetrics and gynecology residency at the New York University School of Medicine. 

Now aged 55, he is the father of three children. 



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