Docs design cancer-free baby

A woman is pregnant with Britain?s first designer baby selected to prevent an inherited cancer.

india Updated: May 14, 2006 02:17 IST
Vijay Dutt

A woman is pregnant with Britain’s first designer baby selected to prevent an inherited cancer. Her decision to use controversial genetic-screening technology will ensure that she does not pass on to her child the hereditary form of eye cancer from which she suffers.

Embryos were created by IVF, although the couple had no fertility problem, so as to allow doctors to remove a cell and test it for the cancer gene. This helped doctors to transfer only unaffected embryos to the woman’s womb.

The couple are the first to take advantage of a relaxation in the rules governing embryo screening.

When the technique was developed in 1989 it was allowed only for genes that always cause disease, such as those for cystic fibrosis.

However, it was approved last year for eye cancer, which affects only 90 per cent of those who inherit a mutated gene.

The Times, which reported the pregnancy, said the controversy over the procedure, which was allowed by the fertility watchdog for genes that confer on 80 per cent lifetime risk of breast and bowel cancer, will escalate.

Critics argue that the action is unethical because it involves the destruction of some embryos that would never contract these diseases if they were allowed to develop into children.

But Dr Paul Serhal, who pioneered the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to detect heritable cancers in Britain, has been allowed to screen for disorders like retinoblastoma and bowel cancer and is treating many couples.

First Published: May 14, 2006 02:17 IST