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Go-ahead for eye cancer embryo tests

21 August 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 322

UK doctors are set to test embryos for a rare form of inherited eye cancer, after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) granted a license to a team at University College Hospital (UCH) in London last week. Four couples will use PGD to try and avoid passing on the genetic condition retinoblastoma to their children. The news comes a week after the HFEA revealed its plans to launch a public consultation on the use of PGD to test for late-onset and 'lower penetrance' genetic disorders.

PGD involves taking a single cell from a 2-4 day old embryo created using IVF performing a genetic or chromosome test on that cell, and then returning one or two unaffected embryos to the womb. Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina caused by a mutation in a gene called RB1. People with this faulty gene have a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to any child, and it causes tumours in 90 per cent of those who inherit it. Affected people also have a greatly increased risk of developing another type of cancer during their lifetime.

One of the couples who want to use PGD to avoid passing on retinoblastoma are Angela and Louis Donovan, who have a five-year-old son born with the condition. Kieran's cancer was treated effectively, after a year of chemotherapy and several months of radiation treatment. Although the Donovans were told three years ago that UCH was prepared to use PGD to help them have an unaffected child, their health authority (Lothian and Borders) refused to fund the £6000 treatment. Instead, the couple opted to use prenatal diagnosis, which resulted in the termination of two affected pregnancies. 'The decision to abort was almost worse than Kieran being diagnosed, but I did the only thing I could do for me and my family', Mrs Donovan told the Times. The Donovans are now set to undergo PGD, after the authority agreed to pay for the procedure.

Paul Serhal, leader of the team granted the license, called the move 'a new era in the prevention of disease', adding 'patients are able not only to protect their children from harrowing conditions they know from experience, but can also get rid of it from the family line'. However, Josephine Quintavalle, of the pro-life pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core) criticised the HFEA's decision to award the license ahead of its forthcoming consultation. Mrs Donovan said she fully understood people who thought using PGD for retinoblastoma was taking things 'too far'. But, she commented, 'surely it is better to screen the embryos than to put people through the trauma of tests and abortions?'

Designer babies may put end to cancer blindness
The Times |  18 August 2005
Doctors are given go-ahead to screen embryos for eye cancer
The Scotsman |  20 August 2005
Eye cancer embryo check allowed
BBC News Online |  18 August 2005
If nature took its course Kieran would be dead. I'd be dead
The Times |  18 August 2005
13 March 2007 - by Dr Colin Gavaghan 
It isn't uncommon, at international conferences, to hear praise for the UK's approach to regulating reproductive and genetic technologies. The cautious, incremental approach of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is often contrasted - favourably - with, for example, the rather dramatic oscillation between regulatory extremes seen in Italy, which had...
15 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The UK's Times newspaper has revealed that a British woman is pregnant with the UK's first baby conceived to be free from an inherited childhood cancer. Last August, doctors at University College Hospital (UCH), London, were granted a licence by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority...
11 August 2005 - by BioNews 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is to issue a public consultation on the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for late-onset and 'lower penetrance' genetic disorders. The use of this technology to avoid later onset genetic conditions sparked debate recently, following the authority's decision to grant a...
1 November 2004 - by BioNews 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has issued a licence allowing doctors to test embryos for a gene mutation that confers a high risk of bowel cancer. Four couples at risk of passing on familial adenomatous polyposis coli (FAP) to their children are now set to undergo the...
1 November 2004 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
This week, BioNews reports on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)'s decision to allow four couples to use embryo gene-testing to avoid passing on hereditary bowel cancer. The licence, granted to a team working at University College Hospital in London, is likely to set a precedent for other...
11 June 2001 - by BioNews 
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...
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