World’s first ‘designer baby’ next year

March 3rd, 2009 - 9:37 am ICT by IANS  

Los Angeles, March 3 (IANS) A fertility clinic here has fulfilled Adolf Hitler’s dream of creating a “dream race.”
The Los Angeles Fertility Institutes, run by Dr Jeff Steinberg who played a key role in the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby Louise Brown in Britain in 1978, says it is ready to deliver the first ‘designer baby’ next year.

Using a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the clinic says it will allow would-be parents to choose the gender, skin, eye and hair colour and other physical traits of their babies. This service will be available only to couples seeking in-vitro fertilization (IVF), according to the clinic which has branches in New York and Mexico.

And it will come at a price of $18,000 per baby.

Many couples have queued up for this service, the clinic says. The institute, which claims to be already using the PGD technique for selection of gender with a success rate of more than 99 percent, says it will now extend it to choose genetic traits of offspring. However, there will be no guarantees about 100 percent success, it says. The PGD technique has been used in clinics since the 1990s to check embryos whether they have inherited genes with life-threatening diseases. The embryos with faulty genes are discarded and only healthy ones are implanted in the mother’s womb.

The technique involves fertilizing eggs in a laboratory. When the embryos are three days old, scientists take out a cell from it and analyze it. If they find that the cell has an abnormal chromosome, the embryo is discarded as it will lead to babies with genetic defects. But the Los Angeles clinic is now extending the PGD technique from detecting genetic diseases to trait selection. Steinberg, who pioneered IVF in the 1970s, says his clinic learnt how to use it for genetic traits like eye colour while trying to screen out albinism.

Albinism is a congenital disorder which leads to lack of melanin pigment in the eyes, hair and skin.

According to Steinberg, people seeking the PGD treatment want their babies to be free from genetic illness.

“To deny them the ability to do that when the technology is there is to me unethical,” he was quoted as saying by an Australian wire service. “You can say eye colour and hair colour are not diseases, no they are not, and there is a cosmetic element to it, but we fix crooked noses all the time.

“It’s new, it’s scary and it’s not for everyone… but (people) shouldn’t condemn it.”

The breakthrough has raised ethical questions about the use of fertility techniques to design babies like shelf commodities.

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