New tests to identify unhealthy embryos

A new generation of genetic tests that would allow parents to select healthy babies is being considered for licensing by Britain's fertility watchdog.

A new generation of genetic tests that would allow parents to select healthy babies is being considered for licensing by Britain's fertility watchdog.

The tests, likely to be offered to parents having fertility treatment, would allow doctors to detect embryos with conditions such as Down's syndrome and discard them before they were implanted in the mother. The new form of genetic screening would also enable parents to discard embryos that werelikely to miscarry, thus improving the success rate of IVF treatment.

The fertility watchdog will also consider licensing the selection of embryos that have the potential to save dangerously ill siblings because they contain genetically compatible material. This follows the case of Molly Nash, an American girl whose life was endangered by a rare genetic form of anaemia. She was given a transplant using cells from the umbilical cord of her baby brother, Adam. Her brother's embryo was checked to see if he carried the gene responsible for his sister's condition.

Doctors believe licensing such genetic tests in Britain would help to reduce the risk of miscarriage because embryos with an abnormal number of chromosomes are more prone to abort. It would also enable them to screen for fatal illnesses such as Edward's syndrome, which leads to severe mental and physical disability in newborns and an early death for most children.

Such testing is likely to provoke accusations that doctors are trying to create "perfect babies" or playing God. It will raise fears that embryos lacking a perfect chromosonal make-up will be discarded. Pro-life groups have condemned such tests as a step towards creating so-called designer babies.

"This will lead to a designer baby culture. Once one has overstepped this mark and uses genetic manipulation for one reason its going to be difficult to stop it for other reasons," said Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. "Testing for Down's syndrome usually means a fatal outcome. This sort of testing assumes that people with some genetic anomaly have less right to live."

The new form of aneuploid pre-implantation screening, which has never been licensed for use in Britain, would involve checking to see if embryos' DNA have abnormalities in chromosomes. "Aneuploid testing" involves removing a cell from the embryo and checking if the full number of chromosomes are present.

The technique would reduce the failure rate of treatment for infertile couples because it would allow doctors to screen out embryos with abnormalities that cause miscarriages. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is used at clinics in Britain to check for hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis, which can be detected from genetic abnormalities.

But doctors have been licensed to examine only five chromosomes for abnormalities, including cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones