Creating Designer Babies: Screening for Disease and Desirable Traits

15 Feb

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, has been used to screen for genes that lead to diseases such as cystic fibrosis and cancer.  Now, the lab procedure that screens for diseases in embryos is being offered to create designer children. Two articles on the topic have appeared recently; they both address the medical and ethical implications.

Last month, the New Scientist reported that the first UK baby genetically selected to be free of a form of breast cancer caused by BRCA1 was born in London.  It was reported that the parents underwent IVF, and the resulting embryos were screened with PGD, where a small number of cells are removed and tested. Only embryos free of the BRCA1 gene were implanted. Five  embryos tested were found to be free of the gene and were implanted; one resulted in the pregnancy.

Gautam Naik reported in February 12 issue of The Wall Street Journal that LA- based Fertility Institutes, will soon help couples select both gender and physical traits in a baby when they undergo fertility treatment. Dr. Jeff Steinberg, director of the clinic, claims that trait selection “is a service” that he intends to offer soon.  According to Naik:

For trait selection, Steinberg is now betting on a new approach for screening embryos. It involves taking cells from an embryo at day five of its development, compared with typical PGD, which uses cells from day three. The method potentially allows more cells to be obtained, leading to a more reliable diagnosis of the embryo.

Many countries have banned the use of PGD for gender selection; it is permitted in the U.S. According to a 2006 survey by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University,42% of 137 PGD clinics offered a gender-selection service.

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