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Embryo gene tests do no harm

20 August 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 272

Carrying out genetic tests on embryos appears to have no effect on the health of the resulting children, according to a new US study. Scientists at three institutes pooled their data on all PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) babies born during the past 12 years, a total of 754. The research, reported in the journal Fertility and Sterility, showed that babies born following PGD are no more likely to be affected by birth defects than babies conceived naturally. Although they found a slightly higher incidence of conditions such as Down syndrome and cleft lip and palate, they attribute this increase to the higher average age of women who undergo PGD.

PGD was first carried out in 1990, and has since resulted in the birth of over 1000 babies worldwide. It involves removing a single cell from an early embryo created using in IVF usually at the eight-cell stage of development. It is used to detect the presence of gene mutations that cause a particular genetic disorder (or to determine sex in the case of conditions that affect only boys), so that only unaffected embryos are returned to the womb.

The new study combined data from the three centres that have performed PGD most often: the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, St Barnabas Medical Centre in New Jersey, and SISMER in Bologna, Italy. The findings allay fears that the technique could harm the embryo and the resulting child, raised after earlier, smaller studies suggested a slightly higher rate of birth defects. Commenting on the results, UK fertility expert Mohammed Taranissi told the Times newspaper: 'It's always been the case that we have not seen problems with PGD, but it is good to see a large study like this that reflects this experience worldwide'.

Recently, the UK's HFEA changed its policy to allow the use of PGD to help couples conceive 'saviour siblings': babies who are a tissue match for an existing sick child, in cases where the embryo is tested solely for tissue type, and not for a genetic disease. A spokeswoman for the HFEA welcomed the US research, saying: 'This new study further supports our policy decision and means that all potential parents who use PGD to avoid serious disease can be reassured that the test is not harming their babies'.

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Embryo screening 'no health risk'
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19 June 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Carrying out genetic tests on embryos has no effect on the health of the resulting babies, according to new findings reported at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Genetics. The researchers, based at Brussels' Free University, followed up over 500 babies born following...
29 April 2005 - by BioNews 
All centres carrying out preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) should be following up the resulting babies to track any long term effects on their health, a UK doctor has said. Peter Braude, of Kings College London, one of eight UK centres offering the treatment, called for more long-term studies at a...
26 July 2004 - by Juliet Tizzard 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has announced a relaxation of the rules surrounding PGD and tissue typing, otherwise known as saviour siblings treatment. Predictably, the decision prompted a rash of media comment. But, perhaps unpredictably, nearly all the comment was positive and in support of the HFEA's decision...
22 July 2004 - by BioNews 
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 preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for the sole purpose of tissue typing should be allowed. The news gives hope to many families who may now...
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