The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is likely to approve the genetic screening of IVF embryos in the UK. Screening embryos for genetic abnormalities may help fertility doctors decide which embryos are best to implant into the uterus of women receiving treatment.
The success rate of IVF drops in women as they age - as the quality of their eggs deteriorates. In 1999, an Italian fertility clinic announced it was achieving higher pregnancy rates in older women by carrying out genetic tests on a patient's embryos before selective transfer. The screening technique allows the chromosomes in the embryo to be studied to establish whether it has any chromosomal abnormalities - including aneuploidy, a condition in which an embryo contains the wrong number of chromosomes in each cell - that might prevent it from implanting into the womb or that might cause a miscarriage or birth defect. Aneuploidy is thought to affect 40 to 70 per cent of IVF embryos.
Some embryo screening is already permitted by the HFEA, but this is for gene mutations which link to a specific condition. Aneuploidy screening involves looking at whole chromosomes to see whether the embryo is likely to survive pregnancy.
Dr Mohammed Taranissi, head of the private Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London, and Simon Fishel, head of the CARE fertility centre at the Nottingham Park hospital, met with an HFEA licensing committee last month. The HFEA held a meeting on Thursday to discuss the technique. They are expected to give their decision whether to license the procedure on July 13.