According to today’s BBC news heath webpages, a gene mapping test that can test embryos for almost any inherited disease could be available in the UK within a year. Unlike current tests doctors do not need to know the specific gene mutation involved. At the same time embryos can be tested to check they are generally in good genetic shape. Experts say there will have to be strict limits on what the test can be used for.
The test – which will cost around £2,500 – uses a technique called karyomapping which looks for the inheritance of sections of DNA or chromosomes. Rather than knowing the exact gene mutation which is passed down the generations in an family affected by a condition such as cystic fibrosis, doctors can just look for the block of DNA containing a faulty gene.
At the moment genetic testing of embryos is generally limited to a few conditions. But karyomapping could in theory be used to test for any one of the 15,000 genetic defects known about. Using the same test doctors could also look at whether any chromosomes are missing or duplicated which suggests the embryo will not be viable. It would also be far quicker than current tests, taking only three days instead of weeks or months.
Whilst the this new test could could boost the chance of a couple having a successful pregnancy through IVF as well as a baby free from the condition in question, it is also likey to raise many ethical issues.
Professor Tony Rutherford, chair of the British Fertility Society said the test would be more reliable although admitted such technology was opening a “Pandora’s box”.
“The issue here is we may find out a lot of genetic information and how is that going to be used or stored.” But he said the regulations in the UK on what could be tested for were very strict and would remain so.
“We’re not mad Frankensteins working away in our laboratories to create designer babies. “
“We are only allowed to look for major diseases which cause handicaps.”