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'Preimplantation genetic diagnosis for IVF is safe'

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The test, called Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), can help doctors spot diseases like cystic fibrosis before deciding whether to continue with fertility treatment.

Three days after an egg has been fertilised in an IVF clinic, the developing embryo would be made up of just eight cells. It is at this stage that doctors can delicately remove one of those cells to test for more than 100 genetic diseases.

If the embryo is given the all-clear, it can then be transferred into the woman's womb. However, there have been concerns about PGD's safety.

Now, researchers at the University Clinic in Brussels, Belgium, which performs about 600 PGD cycles every year, claimed the process is highly safe.

"Embryo biopsy does not adversely affect the health of newborn PGD children. It is important for parents to know that PGD is a safe option," lead researcher Dr Sonja Desmyttere was quoted as saying by the BBC.

She advised that prospective parents should "go for it," but added that research was still taking place on the impact of the test later in life.

The researchers presented their study on 995 babies born through the technique between 1993 and 2008 at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Turkey.

Their paper suggested that the risks of low birth weight, premature birth, major malformations and the perinatal death rate was the same as for other forms of IVF.

Stuart Lavery, director of IVF at Hammersmith Hospital in London, said: "This is quite an important paper.

"For many of these cases they will have been done on day three when you are removing 12.5 per cent of the whole genetic mass of the embryo. So to know that is OK for the baby is hugely reassuring."

Other research on PGD presented at the conference suggested that testing for hereditary breast cancer was a "good" and "feasible" option for parents.

The genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to hugely increase the risk of breast cancer. Women with one of these genes have a 60 per cent to 80 per cent chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetimes. There is also an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

The genes can be detected by PGD, meaning embryos could be selected that do not have a heightened risk of breast cancer, the researcher said.

  

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