A British couple have succeeded in their quest to have a tissue matched baby. Last summer, the Whitakers asked the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow them to use embryo screening (PGD - preimplantation genetic diagnosis) to provide a bone marrow donor for their sick son. After their request was refused, Michelle and Jayson Whitaker travelled to Chicago for the IVF treatment that would potentially save their existing son, Charlie.
Charlie Whitaker suffers from Diamond-Blackfan anaemia, a rare disorder of the blood which means he has to undergo a blood transfusion every three weeks. His only chance of living beyond about 30 years is a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor. The Whitakers have had a daughter since Charlie, but she is unfortunately not a tissue match. Rather than leaving it to chance again, the Whitakers sought PGD to ensure that their next child would be able to help Charlie. But the HFEA said that it could not authorise the treatment because the Whitakers were not at risk of having another child with the same condition and were seeking PGD for tissue typing alone.
In October 2002, the couple travelled to the Reproductive Genetics Unit in Chicago for IVF treatment with PGD. They produced nine healthy embryos, from each of which a single cell was tested to see if the embryo would be a tissue match for Charlie. Three of the embryos were a close match and the best two were implanted into Michelle. One of the embryos successfully implanted and, as a result, James Whitaker was born on 16 June 2003 at a hospital in Sheffield, UK. A sample of the baby's umbilical cord blood was taken and sent to the Chicago clinic for testing to confirm the tissue match with Charlie. The remaining cord blood is stored at a stem cell unit in Oxford until it is needed for transplantation. The Whitakers have been advised to wait six months before considering the stem cell transplant in case signs of the disease appear in James.
Evan Harris, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, has supported the Whitakers since their initial request. On hearing the news of the birth, he said he was 'delighted' that they had been successful, 'but they should not have had to go to America for this treatment'. He added: 'It is high time that the government allowed proper public and parliamentary debate and amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to permit this sort of treatment'.