Written on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 by Gemini
British doctors are planning to create “designer babies” free from inherited breast cancer. Four women with strong family histories of breast cancer are seeking to create embryos without some of the mutations known to cause the disease. Doctors treating the women will apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority next month for a license for the new test.
The women, who do not suffer from fertility problems, will undergo IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) to create test-tube babies free from a gene that would give them up to an 80 likelihood of developing breast cancer later in life. Doctors are already screening embryos, using a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to create babies free from genes that would almost certainly condemn them to fatal conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.
Screening embryos for genes that predispose to cancer is more controversial, because there is a chance that the women will not develop the disease. If they do, it would not affect them until their thirties or forties. Doctors say women who have lost mothers, aunts and grandmothers to breast cancer should be given the chance to free their families of the disease.
Paul Serhal, medical director of the assisted conception unit at University College hospital, London, said: “Some women have already lost numerous members of their family to breast cancer. “We believe this treatment should be offered to women who have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer so that they can have the chance of a normal child. The goal of this treatment is to eradicate the genes which predispose to breast cancer altogether.”
Every year 44,000 British women are diagnosed with breast cancer. About a fifth of them have a hereditary form of the disease. The screening technique used by Serhal and his colleagues, which is already used in America, will test for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, two of the best known mutations.
Women who have a family history of these mutations will go through IVF, even though they could conceive naturally, to create several embryos. The embryos will be tested and one of those found to be free from the gene will be implanted in the woman’s womb. Embryos carrying the faulty gene will be destroyed. The HFEA announced last year that it would consider embryo testing for cancer and is expected to grant the license.