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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New IVF Technique Raises Ethical Questions

Connor Levy is the first baby born using a new in vitro fertilization technique. (Courtesy of Main Line Fertility)

Connor Levy is the first baby born using a new in vitro fertilization technique. (Courtesy of Main Line Fertility)

A Philadelphia baby, born in May, is the first child in the world conceived using a new in vitro fertilization (IVF) technique, which screens embryos for chromosomal disorders and abnormalities before implantation.

People who use this technique will avoid implanting chromosomally abnormal embryos that would result in either not becoming pregnant, or in miscarriage.

The concept of a designer child is not what most doctors are interested in being part of.

– Dr. Michael Glassner

The cost-saving implications are huge, but the implications don’t end there. The process can screen the entire human genome and pinpoint not only common genetic problems in embryos, but trait such as hair color, eye color and potential height.

The process, called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), raises ethical questions.

Dr. Michael Glassner, of Main Line Health in Pennsylvania, partnered with researchers at Oxford to assist in baby Connor Levy’s conception.

He says the team used a “low resolution” version of the technique.

“On low resolution, we’re not getting any other information than we’ve been getting for years,” he said. “But the capability is there, if you do the testing on a high resolution, to detect thousands of different genetic sequencing.”

The high resolution testing can tell, “which embryos have a disease, which embryos are carriers and which embryos are unaffected,” Glassner said. “But the question is, where is your break point? At what point do you say, ‘Alright, there is no other information that is going to be channeled to the couple.’”

Glassner says while the technology is capable of identifying traits such as hair color, eye color and height, that’s not where doctors are focusing their energy.

“Advances in medicine move ahead of the ethical controversies that may be the storm that follows,” he said. “These are obviously uncharted waters. The concept of a designer child is not what most doctors are interested in being part of.”

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