An embryo screening technique that was licensed by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in September 2002 has resulted in its first live birth in the UK. The procedure, aneuploidy screening, enables embryos to be tested for a range of chromosomal abnormalities and helps fertility doctors decide which embryos are best to implant. Aneuploidy is when a cell has an abnormal number of chromosomes, either too few or too many.
The aneuploidy screening technique allows the chromosomes of an embryo - rather than its particular genes - to be studied in order to establish whether they contain any abnormalities. Aneuploidy in embryos normally prevents their development. But it can also cause miscarriage or chromosomal conditions such as Down's syndrome and is likely to be the cause of much 'unexplained infertility'. Aneuploidy is thought to affect 40 to 70 per cent of IVF embryos. Screening is used to select the best embryos for IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment: embryos found to have the wrong number of chromosomes are not replaced in the womb.
Two UK clinics were initially given aneuploidy screening licences by the HFEA: CARE in the Park in Nottingham and the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London, but since then, another two clinics have been licensed. The procedure is only licensed for use in women over the age of 35 or for those who have a history of repeated miscarriage or failed IVF treatment. The Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre has announced the first birth following the use of the technique.
The couple previously became pregnant after IVF treatment at the centre, but miscarried the pregnancy due to severe fetal abnormalities. The next time they started an IVF cycle, they used aneuploidy screening as well, to minimise the chances of transferring an abnormal embryo. Clare Ballantyne-Roberts, who is 43 years old, gave birth to a baby boy eight weeks ago. She said 'we could not face the prospect of waiting another three months to find out if the pregnancy was normal, and the possibility that we might have another miscarriage was unthinkable'. She added 'fortunately, using aneuploidy screening, the clinic was able to identify the one normal embryo we had and gave us peace of mind throughout the pregnancy'. Mohammed Taranissi, director of the centre, said the technique increased the chance of a successful pregnancy in certain women, and might also help to reduce multiple births as the best embryos can be selected and transferred rather than transferring more embryos in order to achieve a pregnancy. 'This is the future of IVF', he said.