Monash Weekly 13 July 2012
PARENTS who fear the prospect of abortion due to genetic problems are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that unborn children are free of genetic diseases.
Hundreds of parents with no fertility problems are making appointments at Monash IVF and – before going through the artificial pregnancy process – are having embryos tested to ensure genetic conditions plaguing their families like Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis or spinal muscular atrophy are not passed on to their children.
The testing process is known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and has a 98per cent success rate.
Couples who do not go through the PGD process have a 50per cent chance of passing on a genetic disease if they conceive naturally.
PGD co-ordinator Dr Elissa Osborne from Monash IVF says it’s hard for parents to see family members suffer from a genetic condition.
“They want to know they’ve done everything to prevent their children from going through the same thing,” Dr Osborne said.
“A lot of them struggle with the concept of termination of pregnancy and they’d rather know that if they do get pregnant, that the pregnancy is unaffected.”
Having a baby is a happy occasion for most but for a small number of couples it comes after heartbreak.
Some people who approach Monash IVF are already parents who have watched children become seriously ill or even die from a genetic disease.
“They’re hoping that PGD testing will prevent a second child from suffering,” Dr Osborne said.
“They just really want to do everything they can to make sure their child is going to be healthy.”
PGD is a labour-intensive and time-consuming process, with parents first having to go through the IVF process to produce embryos. Cells from embryos are collected and sent to Monash IVF, where tests for the genetic disease are developed for them and then used. The process can take up to six months before results are sent back to IVF clinics and healthy embryos are transferred.
It’s an expensive procedure and parents who test and become pregnant in the first cycle could be up to $9000 out of pocket.
The ground-breaking procedure is extremely popular and Monash IVF sees up to 200 couples a year.
There have been fears of PGD leading to designer babies but Dr Osborne is sceptical about the industry heading in that direction.
“I think there will always be – and I’m happy there will always be – legislation in Victoria that governs what we can and can’t do and the people who make those legislative decisions have ethicists that sit in on the panel,” she said.
“I don’t think any of the scientists in our lab would be comfortable doing that. The whole purpose of it is to avoid genetic disease and to make healthy individuals, not to try and make people with higher intelligence or amazing athletic abilities.”