How a British couple gave birth to a cancer-free baby using genetic screening
In 2009, a British couple made history by having the first baby in Britain designed to be free of a hereditary form of breast cancer. The baby girl was born after her parents underwent a controversial procedure that involved screening their embryos for a faulty gene that causes the disease.
The couple, who wished to remain anonymous, had a strong family history of breast cancer. The father's sister, mother, aunt and grandmother all suffered from the disease, which was passed down through the BRCA1 gene. This gene increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 50 to 85 percent, as well as ovarian cancer by 40 to 60 percent.
The couple did not have fertility problems, but they decided to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to create 11 embryos. Then, they used a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to test each embryo for the BRCA1 gene. PGD involves removing a single cell from an embryo and analyzing its DNA for specific mutations.
Out of the 11 embryos, six were found to carry the BRCA1 gene and were discarded. Three others were discarded for other abnormalities. The remaining two were implanted in the mother's womb, one of which led to a successful pregnancy.
The baby girl was born healthy and well at University College Hospital in London. She will not have to face the spectre of developing breast or ovarian cancer in her adult life, nor will she pass on the gene to her future children.
The procedure was carried out by Dr Paul Serhal, medical director of the hospital's assisted conception unit. He said: \"This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life. The parents will have been spared the risk of inflicting this disease on their daughter.\"
The use of PGD for screening out inherited diseases is legal and regulated in Britain, but it is still controversial. Some critics argue that it is unethical to discard embryos based on their genetic makeup, and that it could lead to a slippery slope of creating \"designer babies\" with desirable traits.
However, supporters of PGD say that it is a valuable tool for preventing serious and incurable diseases, and that it does not involve altering the genes of the embryos. They also point out that PGD is only available for couples who have a high risk of passing on certain conditions, and that it is not used for cosmetic or trivial reasons.
According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatments in Britain, PGD has been used since 1990 to screen embryos for more than 100 different genetic conditions. These include cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease, sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease.
The HFEA says that PGD is \"a very difficult decision for couples who are at risk of passing on serious inherited diseases\". It adds: \"We recognise that some people have ethical objections to this procedure but we believe that it can offer significant benefits to couples who are at risk.\" ec8f644aee