In fertility research and treatment, work to restore the fertility of cancer patients has moved on tremendously. A few months after we launched, scientists at Edinburgh and Leeds announced plans to offer a clinical service to freeze pieces of ovarian tissue for patients about to undergo chemotherapy. Five years on, an American team has just published research describing their success in producing a viable human embryo using an egg which was collected from frozen-thawed ovarian tissue. The embryo did not lead to a pregnancy, but it can only be a matter of months before the first baby from stored ovarian tissue is conceived.
In preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the focus of public discussion has moved away from testing for genetic conditions, to wider applications of the technology. In October 2000, an American couple, Jack and Lisa Nash, announced the arrival of their son Adam, born after PGD was performed not just to avoid a particular genetic condition, but also to ensure that the future baby would be of a particular tissue type. Baby Adam's cord blood went on to be used in a bone marrow transplant for his older sister, Molly, who suffers from Fanconi anaemia. Since the Nash family hit the headlines, many other couples around the world have requested similar treatment to benefit their own sick children. PGD and tissue typing has not yet been carried out with any success in the UK (although British couple, Jayson and Michelle Whitaker had successful treatment in the US), but an Australian clinic recently announced that one of its patients is pregnant with a 'saviour sibling'.
New treatments won't continue to appear in the clinic unless basic research keeps developing the knowledge that we need to move forwards. In the fields of genome research and stem cell research, acquisition of that basic knowledge has been moving along quickly. Five years ago, the Human Genome Project was still unfinished and the successful derivation of human embryonic stem cell lines had only just become a reality. Since then, researchers have produced a full human genome sequence, many embryonic stem cell lines and even, just a few weeks ago, a Stem cell line derived from a cloned human embryo.
Human genetics, stem cell research and reproductive medicine have kept us very busy over the past five years and we don't expect that to change in the near future. And as new research findings and new treatments emerge over the next five years, we'll endeavour to help you to make sense of it all.