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Ethics task force to examine use of microarrays in embryo screening

21 July 2008
Appeared in BioNews 467

The use of DNA chip (microarray) technology in embryo screening is to be investigated by an ethics task force from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). The technology has the potential to screen IVF embryos, in order to improve fertility treatment success rates. In addition, it may be possible to screen embryos for chromosomal abnormalities, and for genetic variations that could cause disease.

Professor Guido De Wert, the chair of the task force, has launched a consultation process with ten European fertility centres. The aim of the ESHRE task force is to assess how advanced the microarray technique is, its potential use for embryo screening and, ultimately, develop a code of practice to regulate its use.

Microarrays can identify the presence of thousands of genetic and chromosomal abnormalities in a sample of DNA. This may allow embryos with the best chance of implantation in IVF to be selected. Another implication is that it may be possible to identify if an embryo has genetic variants that could pre-dispose it to disease later in life, such as diabetes or heart disease. However, such diseases are complex, and the clinical significance of many genetic variations is unknown. Professor De Wert said that 'one of my concerns is that people who are naive about genetics think that it is easy to pick the best embryo. But even the best geneticists don't know how to interpret how diseases might develop from gene chip information'. Professor De Wert also said that this technique should only be used to improve IVF treatment.

The British Fertility Society recently issued guidelines advising against the use of PGS (preimplantation genetic screening), where embryos are screened for chromosomal abnormalities. This is different from the use of PGD. Currently in Britain clinics have to apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority each time they want to test for a new genetic disorder. Microarrays may allow all tests to be carried out at the same time, requiring new sets of guidelines. The ethics task force will help to shape such guidelines for good clinical practice, and help determine what it is appropriate to screen embryos for.

Code of conduct for fertility doctors to be drawn up
The Daily Telegraph |  9 July 2008
Code on embryo screening planned
BBC News Online |  8 July 2008
Microarray technology for preimplantation genetic screening
PHG Foundation |  16 July 2008
27 October 2008 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
UK scientists have developed a new screening technique that could allow prospective parents to test their IVF embryos for any known genetic disease. The test, dubbed 'a genetic MoT', would cost just £1500 and could be available by next year pending licensing by the Human Fertilisation and...
16 June 2008 - by Alison Cranage 
The British Fertility Society (BFS) has issued new guidelines for the use of pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) in patients undergoing fertility treatment. The new guidelines, published in the journal Human Fertility, state that there is no evidence that PGS improves pregnancy rates or decreases miscarriage rates for...
17 July 2007 - by Dr Alan Thornhill 
Embryo selection following cleavage stage embryo biopsy and chromosome analysis to identify aneuploid embryos (those which have an abnormal number of chromosomes) in every couple having IVF/ICSI or all women of advanced maternal age is rightly considered by most clinics to be too invasive and potentially damaging for routine...
10 July 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
A technique used to select IVF embryos most likely to implant and develop could actually reduce success rates, according to a study by Dutch researchers. Preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) involves removing a single cell from an IVF embryo and testing it for the presence of chromosome...
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