Genetic testing for a cancer-gene-free baby

by Liza on Dec. 19th, 2008

A British woman is expecting the birth of a baby next week. Not so unusual, except that doctors screened the baby, through preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to be sure that he or she is free of a gene that causes breast cancer.

According to the article,

"The husband's grandmother, mother, sister and a cousin have been diagnosed with the disease [in their 20s].

While a daughter could have been affected by breast cancer herself if she carried the gene, a son could have been a carrier and passed it on to his daughters.

Mr Serhal said: 'The whole objective of this exercise is not just to make sure the child doesn't have the gene, but to stop the transmission from generation to generation.'"

Of course, the PGD doesn't guarantee that if the baby is a girl, she'll never develop breast cancer. There are other genetic and environmental causes for the disease. But at least she won't have the mutant gene that makes breast cancer a 50-80% certainty.

There's more on Buzz about PGD...

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

So do people ever do genetic testing of embryos when they get pregnant the old fashioned way? It seems like this breakthrough is only useful for people willing or able to go through the IVF process right?

posted on Fri, 12/19/2008 - 12:11pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

That's right. You can only use this sort of genetic screening when fertilization happens outside the body. You choose a healthy embryo before it implants and develops.

You can look for genetic disorders if you get pregnant without IVF, but not until much later, and only using techniques like amniocentesis and a few kinds of blood screenings. And, of course, a decision at that point is much more ethically troubling to lots of people.

posted on Fri, 12/19/2008 - 12:58pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

A kind of genetic analysis called FISH, or fluorescence in situ hybridization, can pick up defects in embryos that other techniques (like PCR, or polymerase chain reaction) might miss. That means families with histories of genetic illnesses such as Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy, Pader-Willi syndrome, Williams syndrome, or neurofibromatosis can use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to boost the odds of having healthy babies.

posted on Mon, 03/16/2009 - 2:45pm

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