March 1, 2024

UK parents to screen embryos for non-fatal gene

Another first for Britain’s fertility watchdog

Britain’s fertility watchdog has awarded a licence to an IVF doctor in order
to screen and destroy embryos for a disease which is treatable with drugs and diet. Dr Paul Serhal, of University College, in
London, will assist a fertile couple who want their child
to be free of the gene for familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH). In
its severest form, this disease causes high cholesterol levels even
at the age of 5. Many of those affected die in childhood or have suffered at
least one heart attack by the end of their 20s.

However, this happens only if a child inherits two defective copies
of the gene. With only one, the condition is easily controlled. Dr
Serhal’s patients have one child with the severe form and one without
the disease at all. He has obtained permission, according to the
London Times, to screen for both versions. Until now, the HFEA only
allowed screening for genes which caused severely disabling diseases.

Mr Serhal says the parents will face "an awkward choice" if
none of their embryos are unaffected. By that he seems to mean that
they will either have to destroy them all because they are defective
or accept one of them as second-best. ~ London Times, Dec 15