Fears parents could try for 'designer babies'

Fears parents could try for ‘designer babies’ as it emerges controversial test to screen out cancer, heart attack and diabetes could be heading for UK

  • Letting parents choose children could herald the arrival of ‘designer babies’
  • Critics say it could let rich parents pay for healthier and more intelligent children
  • US firm Genomic Prediction has tested embryos and wants to bring it to the UK 

A controversial tool to test embryos for their future risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes could be on its way to the UK.

But there are fears that letting parents choose children unlikely to have certain medical conditions, including intellectual disabilities, could herald the arrival of ‘designer babies’.

And critics say it could allow rich parents to pay for healthier and more intelligent children.

US firm Genomic Prediction has already tested embryos for their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and skin cancer. And it wants to bring the tool to the UK.

A controversial tool to test embryos for their future risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes could be on its way to the UK (file image) 

It has asked CARE, one of the largest fertility clinics in the country, to apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to consider the use of the technology, first to test embryos for breast cancer risk using several genes.

Currently clinics are allowed to test for single high-risk genes, such as the BRCA mutation, while couples using IVF can use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to ensure their baby does not have diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anaemia.

But the Genomic Prediction tool goes much further by screening embryos for conditions caused by several genes, which might never occur. It also wants to develop tests for autism, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Its scientists say they do not offer the test to screen for intelligence or non-medical purposes such as improving athletic ability. But Dr Nathan Treff, the company’s chief scientific officer, says in future embryos could be ‘edited’ to remove problematic genes.

And the firm, whose ‘LifeView’ service starts at $1,400 (£1,090) is now looking to screen embryos for intellectual disabilities. Dr Treff dismissed talk of ‘designer babies’ and added: ‘This is about reducing people’s risk of dying early.’

But Professor Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, says the tests are ‘not safe, not scientifically sound and not ethical’.

There are fears that letting parents choose children unlikely to have certain medical conditions, including intellectual disabilities, could herald the arrival of ‘designer babies’ (file image)

In a blog post he wrote: ‘Although parents make many choices on behalf of their children… to deliberately select an unchangeable genetic feature for their child from birth must pass the highest level of scrutiny and societal acceptance.’

He said there was a risk of ‘fundamentally changing the relationship between parents and children’.

He supports using PGD for certain diseases, and the use of genetic ‘risk scores’ for adults, but says they should not be combined.

CARE’s Professor Simon Fishel said: ‘There is an element of hypocrisy about supporting preventative medicine like statins and blood-thinners, but not allowing people to have the choice for their child.’

Source: Read Full Article