The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has issued the first licences for a new type of genetic screening of IVF embryos. The HFEA had already agreed in principle to this form of genetic screening in July 2001.
Known as aneuploidy screening, the technique enables embryos to be tested for a range of genetic abnormalities and may help fertility doctors decide which embryos are best to implant during fertility treatments. The technique might be particularly useful where there is a history of miscarriage or failure to get pregnant in IVF treatment.
The aneuploidy screening technique allows the embryonic chromosomes - rather than particular genes - to be studied to establish whether there are any abnormalities. Aneuploidy is a condition in which an embryo contains the wrong number of chromosomes in each cell - this might prevent the embryo from implanting in the womb or cause a miscarriage or birth defect. Aneuploidy is thought to affect 40 to 70 per cent of IVF embryos. Embryos found to have the wrong number of chromosomes would not be used in treatment.
Two UK clinics have been given licences to perform aneuploidy screening: CARE in the Park, Nottingham and the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London. Dr Simon Fishel, from CARE, said that the screening technique is 'about preventing wastage. We want to select those embryos which have a chance of getting through the pregnancy process'. Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA agreed, saying 'It's about trying to avoid chromosomal abnormalities and also, importantly, the emotional and physical distress of miscarriage'.