London: The first baby in the UK to have undergone embryonic genetic screening to lessen the risk of breast cancer has been born.
Doctors at University College London said the girl and her mother were doing well following the birth earlier this week.
The embryo was screened for the altered BRCA1 gene, which would have meant the girl had a 80% chance of developing breast cancer. It was removed before conception – defined as when the embryo is implanted in the womb.
Women in three generations of her husband’s family have been diagnosed with the disease in their 20s.
This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life
Paul Serhal, the fertility expert who treated the couple, said
“The parents will have been spared the risk of inflicting this disease on their daughter.
“The lasting legacy is the eradication of the transmission of this form of cancer that has blighted these families for generations.”
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) involves taking a cell from an embryo at the eight-cell stage of development, when it is around three-days old, and testing it.
Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes to continue the pregnancy, and discard any whose genetic profile points to future problems.
Using PGD to ensure a baby does not carry an altered gene which would guarantee a baby would inherit a disease such as cystic fibrosis, is well-established.
But in 2006, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said doctors could test for so-called susceptibility genes, such as BRCA1.
Everybody carries a version of these genes – in fact a properly functioning BRCA1 protein helps stop cancer before it starts – but some particular variations of the genes greatly increase the risk of cancer.
Carrying the key BRCA1 mutation in this family’s case would have given the increased chance of breast cancer and 50% chance of ovarian cancer later in life.
However, carrying the gene does not make cancer inevitable, and there is also a chance the disease could be cured, if caught early enough.
The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, wanted to eradicate the gene flaw from their family.
The husband’s grandmother, mother, sister and a cousin have been diagnosed with the disease.
If the 27-year-old woman and her husband had had a son, he could have been a carrier and passed it on to any daughters.