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HFEA allow PGD for HLA tissue typing

22 July 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 268

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has decided that no distinction should be between the cases of the Hashmi family and the Whitaker family: that PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) for the sole purpose of tissue typing should be allowed. The news gives hope to many families who may now be able to treat affected children and has been welcomed by professionals in the field.

Histocompatibility Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) tissue typing of embryos, usually at the 8 cell stage, enables an embryo to be selected as a donor match for an existing sibling suffering from a disease curable by transplant. When the donor child is born, cells from the umbilical cord are used to treat the affected sibling. Previously, HLA tissue typing was only allowed when PGD would also be used to test for a genetic condition, the procedure requested by the Hashmis.

Suzi Leather, who chairs the HFEA, said, 'Our review of available evidence does not indicate that the embryo biopsy procedure disadvantages resulting babies... risks associated with sibling to sibling stem cell donation are low'. The authority stressed that any application to perform the procedure would need to be accompanied by evidence from the clinical team treating the sick child. Only if all other alternatives, such as finding existing matches in family or cord banks, were exhausted would permission be given for HLA tissue typing PGD.

The British Medical Association and the British Fertility Society (BFS) have both welcomed the news. Professor Alison Murdoch, chair of the BFS, said, 'this is the hardest decision some families ever have to make. It is important that the views and interests of the patients are always put first. Since it is their families that live with the consequences of these decisions, it is right that their views take priority'.

Predictably, the pro-life lobby has been less than impressed. Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said, 'they are making it up as they go along. They are making decisions without public consultation'. She added, 'we'll see you [HFEA] in court'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Green light for 'designer babies' to save siblings
The Guardian |  21 July 2004
HFEA agrees to extend policy on tissue typing
HFEA press release |  21 July 2004
HFEA tissue-typing decision - BFS response
British Fertility Society |  21 July 2004
Opinions differ over rules change
The Guardian |  22 July 2004
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