Raj and Shahana Hashmi, the couple who fought for the right to have a tissue-matched IVF baby to save the life of their son Zain, are stopping treatment after six unsuccessful attempts. The couple's doctors are now reluctant to continue because of Shahana's age (40), and because of the stressful effects of the treatment, the Mail on Sunday reported last week. The Hashmis told the newspaper they might still use two frozen embryos from previous treatments, and also hoped to try gene therapy for Zain.
Five-year old Zain Hashmi has thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder that might be cured with a blood stem cell transplant from a tissue-matched donor: the stem cells could be taken from the umbilical cord blood from a newborn baby. The Hashmis were the first UK couple to apply for permission to use PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) in conjunction with IVF to conceive a so-called 'saviour sibling'. By using PGD to carry out genetic tests on IVF embryos, they hoped to conceive a baby that was both free from thalassaemia, and a matched donor for Zain.
The procedure was authorised by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in 2001, but this decision was challenged in the High Court by a pro-life group. The High Court ruled that the authority did not have the power to authorise the tissue typing procedure. However, in April 2003, the UK Court of Appeal allowed the HFEA's appeal against the decision, which meant that the couple could proceed with the treatment.
The Hashmis have undergone six cycles of IVF treatment during the last two years, including one that lead to a pregnancy, but later miscarried. After the last attempt, the couple had three embryos that were a perfect match for Zain, but all three failed to develop when returned to the womb. Shahana said: 'I had convinced myself that this was going to be the time we got a chance to save Zain's life', adding 'we feel so, so, sad'. But she also said that they may still decide to use two frozen embryos from previous treatment cycles, and would also push for gene therapy to replace the faulty gene causing Zain's condition.
Simon Fishel, who treated the couple at the CARE fertility unit at the Park Hospital in Nottingham, said that the Hashmis had given other couples hope. Two other families are apparently undergoing the same procedure at the clinic, and a further three applications are being considered.