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8-Humans: 'Perfect baby soon' as genetic test is approved in UK

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TITLE:  'Perfect baby soon' as genetic test is approved
SOURCE: Daily Mail, UK, by Beezy Marsh
DATE:   November 12, 2001

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THE first 'perfect' baby could be created in Britain within weeks using an 
embryo screening technique, following its approval by a fertility watchdog, 
it emerged yesterday. A London clinic will use the controversial method to 
screen out embryos with even tiny flaws to boost the chances of couples 
undergoing fertility treatment having a child. Even embryos which could 
grow into healthy infants may be discarded due to minute imperfections 
which experts fear can lead to miscarriage.

Others with chromosomal abnormalities which would lead to Down's syndrome 
will also be weeded out. Women over 35 are at a greater risk of all forms 
of embryo abnormalities and stand to benefit most from the GBP 700-a-time 
screening, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The procedure, 
available in America for several years, can go ahead at licensed clinics 
after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority yesterday revealed 
it had 'no objection'. No change in the 1990 legislation on fertility 
treatment was necessary as PGD is allowed for certain diseases, such as 
cystic fibrosis, which can be inherited. The authority simply allowed the 
technique to be extended to include screening for chromosomal mutations. 
Screening for choice of sex or traits such as hair and eye colour remains 
outlawed. Last night, however, campaigners warned that PGD is a major step 
towards genetic engineering. Paul Tully, of the Society for the Protection 
of Unborn Children, said: 'People are mistaken if their concerns about the 
designer baby scenario are restricted to the idea of someone creating a 
fair-haired, blue-eyed child with an IQ of 150. 'This is where it starts 
and it is a slippery slope. We are starting to eliminate those with more 
manifest 'imperfections' through this procedure and it may well move on to 
other conditions, such as heart disease or breast cancer. 'These arguments 
are going to be very difficult for society to go back on once they have 
approved the principle.'

A spokesman for the Down's Syndrome Association said it was 
'understandable' that parents would want to select the embryos most likely 
to lead to a healthy baby. But she added: 'In principle, we would argue 
strongly against such a test if we thought it was being carried out purely 
in the search for 'the perfect baby'.'

Professor Joy Delhanty, of University College Medical School in London, who 
carries out PGD for inherited conditions, added: 'This technique is a 
departure because there is no specific diagnosis involved and this is about 
improving implantation rates. 'It might be appropriate for certain patients 
with repeated miscarriage, but one has to remember this is an invasive 
procedure for the embryo.'

The change follows a legal challenge by fertility expert Mohammed 
Taranissi, of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Unit in London. He 
expects to start preparing the first patients in a month, with the first 
screening scheduled for the New Year. Dozens of women who have suffered 
failures with in vitro fertilisation have inquired about the treatment. 
Around 27,000 couples embark on fertility treatment every year, at a cost 
of around GBP 3,000 per time, but 85 per cent of attempts fail. The PGD 
technique works by taking a cell from an embryo and staining certain 
chromosomes - the building blocks of life which contain genetic information 
- using a special dye to show up abnormalities. The HFEA said it would soon 
carry out a final inspection of Mr Taranissi's clinic after GBP 250,000 
screening equipment was installed last week. 'We have no objections to the 
technique being used,' said a spokesman. 'We are minded to license it but 
we need to first inspect the clinic.'

Mr Taranissi said: 'In IVF, embryologists already look for the best-quality 
embryos by appearance, and so this is a logical progression. 'It is 
designed to help women and will benefit a large group of patients going 
through IVF and give them the best chance of having a baby. 'It could mean 
people with poor quality embryos will not attempt many cycles of IVF, and 
so could save them emotional distress.

'You could argue it is unethical not to do this. What is the other 
scenario? To have a woman get pregnant, carry out a test for Down's and 
then offer her a termination?' Chromosomal abnormalities cause Down's 
syndrome and have been linked to repeated miscarriage and 'unexplained' 
infertility. The aim of PGD is to screen out less than 'perfect' embryos to 
increase the chances of implantation and healthy pregnancy. Only the best 
embryos will be used during IVF treatment. The risk of a woman suffering 
mutations in her eggs rises steeply after the age of 35, when egg quality 
declines. In women over 35, up to 30 per cent of embryos may contain 
chromosomal abnormalities. The rate soars to 80 per cent for those in their 

Experts believe such mutations are to blame for 60 per cent of miscarriages 
occuring in the first three months of pregnancy. Until now, women have been 
offered screening for Down's during pregnancy only if they are considered a 
high risk. The method, called an amniocentisis, involves inserting a needle 
into the womb and can cause a miscarriage.


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