Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pre implantation genetic diagnosis

At a recent conference I attended a lecture which I found miraculous and deeply troubling.
Dr Mark Hughes is a pioneer of Pre Implantation Genetic diagnosis. It is a technique where at the very earliest stage of a fetus. (eggs and sperm
are brought together in vitro) on day 2 a cell is taken by pipet and genetically analyzed. We now understand the genetic abnormalities of many diseases. If the growing embryo has the genetic disease being tested for it is not implanted. If not it is implanted and ahealthy child is the result. This happens at day 2 of fetal development. This is currently available in a number of labs. Dr Hughes spoke of families who have had children with devastating, incurable metabolic diseases. He said they had three real choices adoption( an excellent choice he said), PGD or trying again and risking another fatal outcome. Most just never have another baby. The affected embryos are sent to a lab and cell lines are made to try and find cures for these illnesses.

Dr Hughes is clearly conflicted but because of how early in gestation this is done, he continues. Indeed he said he hopes this technology will not be necessary one day, because we cab cure these unfortunate children, most of whom die in utero or shortly after birth. He will not do this for sex selection, but of course this technology is very easily abused.
He met one familiy who wanted a child without a particular disease who was an HLA match to his or her affected sibling to save the sibling. Dr Hughes initially refuse and consulted religious and bio ethics leaders to contemplate this. He did end up doing the procedure after an appeal by the father of the affected child.
He did also talk about a technology using donor eggs and patient dna to make cells to cure those patients. Of course this makes the potential for cloning possible, which Dr Hughes vehemently opposes. It is theoretically not possible.
These techniques are open to a lot of abuse, we do not have the technology to pick height or eye colour but that day may come. It was good to hear that the ethics of this is being carefully considered by Dr Hughes. Unfortunately not everyone is so ethical. I find these technologies troubling, but the joy of the parents he showed with healthy beautiful kids were heartwarming.
For adults , I prefer adult stem cell techniques and we must be very careful about how these other techniques are used, but the geni is out of the bottle and it will not be returned. We must carefully consider what we are doing, but I must admit I think these techniques used carefully are amazing, but I am still very pro life. These techniques are pro life.

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