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Embryos tested for breast cancer

26th April 2007

Two couples from families affected by breast cancer will be the first to have embryos screened to prevent their future children developing the disease.

Embryo

The couples will undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF), followed by genetic testing. The tests will enable doctors to choose embryos without the BRCA1 gene. The gene increases the possibility of developing the cancer in adulthood by 60-80%, but does not necessarily ensure it will develop.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have agreed to the idea in theory, but approval is yet to be granted. Applications to the HFEA are subject to peer review and examination by other scientists before a licence is awarded.

Critics have claimed the procedure is the first step towards creating 'designer babies'.

The screening is known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and has only been approved for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.

In May 2005, the HFEA ruled that doctors could perform embryo screenings for genes such as BCRA1. Every case is subject to individual approval by the authority.

Paul Serhal of University College Hospital, London, is applying to test for the BRCA1 gene. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we are doing here is giving parents an option to spare their children the trauma that they had to go through and eradicate this genetic transmission that has been happening from generation to generation."




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