The ability for parents to create designer babies inches closer to reality after two emerging processes have altered the IVF landscape.
"At some point in the not too distant future, prospective parents will have the technical ability to look at the genome of their embryos and select embryos based on the traits they see, whether those are disease traits, cosmetic traits, behavioral traits, or boy or a girl," Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University in California, was quoted on NewScientist.com
Connor Levy's birth to a Philadelphia couple occurred after cells from the couple's IVF embryos were checked for genetic abnormalities by specialists at Oxford University. This allowed their IVF doctor to select the embryo free of abnormal chromosomes. Usually, embryos with abnormal chromosomes will result in a miscarriage, if they even implant in the womb. Those that do survive often end up with genetic disorders including Turner and Down's syndrome.
"It is hard to overstate how revolutionary this is," Doctor Michael Glassner
, who treated the couple at the Main Line Fertility clinic, told The Guardian
. "This increases pregnancy rates by 50%
across the board and reduces miscarriages by a similar margin. It will be much less expensive. In five years, this will be state of the art and everyone who comes for IVF will have it."
Though Dagan Wells from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), who led the study that identified the healthy embryo for baby Levy, doesn't see designer babies for cosmetic traits very viable.
"Two people who are both 5 foot 2 tall are unlikely to produce a basketball player," he says. With each trait a couple selected, the more embryos would be eliminated. After one or two traits, there wouldn't be any embryos to choose from. "To go through all the difficulties, expense and uncertainty of an IVF cycle to choose something trivial, I can't see many people doing it," Wells told NewScientist.com.
However, that view is altered by Britain's plan
to become the first country in the world to offer three-parent IVF treatments designed to remove incurable conditions passed down from the maternal line. Since it involves genes from the mother, a father and from a female donor, critics are looking ahead to a designer baby market.
"Worried that I'm becoming a reactionary old Tory -but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of 3-person IVF. Next step, designer babies," Glyn Davies wrote on Twitter.
Where do you stand on the ethics of these emerging IVF changes?