New noninvasive techniques to select embryos for in vitro fertilization (IVF) could boost pregnancy rates and lower the number of risky multiple births. Scientists are using proteomics and metabolomics to screen the liquid that embryos are grown in prior to implantation in order to search for telltale signs of a healthy--or unhealthy--embryo. Some screening tools could be commercially available within the next year.
At some point in the next 10 to 20 years we are going to turn a corner where the advantages of IVF for starting a pregnancy will outweigh the advantages of natural sexual intercourse as a way to start a pregnancy. Improved methods for screening lots of embryos for healthiness might prove sufficient to make that happen. Embryos selected with proteonomics and genetic testing for defects might result in lower defect rates than come from making babies the old fashioned way.
A number of groups are chasing the development of better methods to identify good embryos.
Scientists at Molecular Biometrics, a biotech startup in Chester, NJ, are taking a different approach. They use near-infrared spectroscopy to detect specific molecules involved in oxidative stress, which can be an indicator of health in some tissues. Rather than look at single markers, the researchers have developed a specialized algorithm that can detect differences in the molecular profiles of viable and nonviable embryos.
They are doing a clinical trial with 1,500 patients to look for patterns.
Even if refinements in embryo screening for defects does not by itself make IVF more compelling eventually more sophisticated genetic screening will provide so many advantages that IVF will definitely become the preferred method for starting pregnancies. Reaching that point will happen once we learn the effects of most genetic variations and genetic testing becomes cheap. Then starting a pregnancy via IVF will allow women to select between dozens of embryos to choose the embryo that has the combination of chromosomes most likely to provide desired traits.
Some countries will restrict the use of genetic testing of IVF embryos to only allow selection against genetic defects. Those countries will find their future generations falling behind in international economic competition as parents in less regulated countries choose genetic variations that boost the intelligence of their offspring. Genetic testing policy will therefore become industrial policy and national security policy.
Most parents will select for higher intelligence and physical attractiveness of their children (I'm expecting a lot more blond hair and blue eyed daughters). They will also seek to avoid genetic variations that increase the odds of diseases. But beyond that what other preferences will they exercise when choosing between embryos? How outgoing or shy? How empathetic? How analytical or artistic? How altruistic or selfish?
If robots or artificial intelligences on the web do not take over the world then IVF genetic screening choices made by prospective parents and governments will do more to determine the kind of world we live in in the future than any other area of human choice.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2007 August 26 10:46 PM Biotech Reproduction|