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PGD eliminates cancer risk in baby

11 June 2001
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 111

The first baby screened for a genetic predisposition to cancer later in life has been born in America. Scientists from the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago announced the birth of the baby boy following IVF and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) , on Thursday last week. Eighteen embryos were tested, and the two of the seven found not to have mutations of P53, a gene that suppresses tumours, were implanted into the mother.

The baby boy was born, free from the mutation, to a couple from New York. His father has a family history of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, an inherited mutation of the P53 gene. This is a  rare condition: only about 300 families worldwide are reported to have it. Offspring of an affected individual have a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the mutation, which causes a predisposition to certain kinds of cancer, both in childhood, and later in life.

But inheriting the mutation does not mean that the child will actually get cancer; although it will have a much higher risk than those without the mutation. There is a 50 per cent chance of developing a cancer by the age of 40, and a 90 per cent chance by the age of 60. Cancer can also appear two or more times, as had happened to the boy's 37 year old father, who had cancer at age two and again at 31.

Yury Verlinsky, director of the Institute, said that for the first time, 'families who already know they are at risk for late-onset genetic diseases can try to get pregnant without worrying if prenatal testing shows the fetus is carrying the same vulnerability.' He also stated that he would rather screen embryos and avoid implanting those with the defect than screen fetuses during pregnancy, as this might mean that parents would choose to terminate a baby. He argued that the two situations were ethically different.

Birth puts embryo testing in spotlight
The Chicago Tribune |  8 June 2001
Embryonic testing for diseases raises host of concerns
MSNBC |  8 June 2001
Gene test allows disease-free baby
The Washington Post |  9 June 2001
Genetic testing on embryos hits new milestone
Yahoo Daily News |  8 June 2001
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