In vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis

The testing of embryos created in vitro (outside the body, literally in glass) has become more popular in recent months. Tomorrow's Ethics and Health Law News, which comes to me daily from Australia, references an article from the Sunday Herald Sun, 28 May 2006

The article claims that a test available in Victoria could reduce the incidence of 40 deadly genetic diseases, including breast cancer and cystic fibrosis. Because later in the article, only 30 "inherited cancers as well as those destined to develop fatal lung and blood disorders, even deafness or blindness" are referenced, it is difficult to tell what the test is actually testing.

Dr David Cram, director of Molecular Genetic Services at Monash IVF, said the diagnosis could be used to test for "pretty much any genetic condition where the exact genetic cause was known".

The test is carried out on an IVF embryo when it has developed eight cells.

A single cell is removed and its DNA is tested for gene mutations.

Considering the relatively low rate of success of in vitro fertilization (IVF), the potential risks to the embryo, and the reliability of the genetic testing (once the embryo is dead there's no way to confirm it would have developed the disease in question), one hopes there are better ways to use genetic testing to favor healthy children.

Dr Cram said despite the test being readily available, many Victorian couples at risk were still unaware it was available.

Helping people learn enough about genetic testing to make decisions consistent with their own beliefs is to be applauded.

A free community PGD education program was held in Melbourne yesterday run by Monash IVF, Melbourne IVF and the Infertility Treatment Authority.

As new techniques are developed and tested, those considering using the new technique--as well as others in the general public--deserve the chance to learn what the technique means and how it affects their future.

Marie Godfrey, PhD




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