The first designer baby was created in the U.S. in 2000. Doctors used screening techniques to test the embryos of Lisa and Jack Nash. They chose the embryos that would be an exact cell match to their daughter Molly. Molly suffers from a genetic disorder called Fanconi Anemia which causes bone marrow deficiency. The embryo selected did not carry the disease and was a perfect tissue match. As a result, Adam Nash was born in August after Mrs. Nash underwent four IVF cycles. Stem cells were collected from his umbilical cord to be donated and used to replace Molly's bone marrow. (Baby created to save older sister)Since the creation of Adam, many more couples have created their own designer baby to save their sick child or prevent their offspring from inheriting a certain genetic disease.
In 2002, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority allowed fertility clinics in Britain to create babies to help another person. The first UK designer baby was born in 2003 to provide stem cells for a sibling. (Consumer Products)
This year a woman in Britain gave birth to a baby girl designed to be free of breast cancer. The father's grandmother, mother, sister, and cousin were all diagnosed with breast cancer so they turned to pioneering treatment where the mothers embryos were screened. The embryos that did not contain the BRCA1 gene and were implanted into the womb. The child that would have had an 80% chance of having the disease is now cancer free. Because of this new technique, hope has been restored to couples who are afraid of passing a disease down to their offspring. (Britain's first cancer-free designer baby born after being screened for deadly gene)
How is a designer baby created?
IVF and Preimplantation genetic diagnosis(PGD) are used to create designer babies. Using IVF, a single cell is removed from an embryo. The embryos are grown to the eight-cell stage, then using PGD, the cell is genetically tested. PGD can identify certain embryos carrying abnormal genes and select a specific sex to avoid sex-linked diseases. Based on the results of the test, parents can decide which embryos they want to implant into the womb and which ones they want to discard. This prevents women from having to decide whether to abort the baby as well as the emotional grief or financial struggles they would have to face. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is recommended to couples that are both carriers of a genetic disease. Today, scientists continue to learn more and more about how our genes work and interact. Soon it might be possible to use PGD to select desirable traits such as height, hair color, or intelligence.(Designer Babies:Ethical Considerations)Germline therapy can also be used. It alters the genes of eggs, sperm, and embryos to stop the passing of disease onto future generations.
Concerns for this new technology
Some are concerned that the current techniques of genetic modification, which introduces genes at random places, could possibly disturb the functions of other genes causing dangerous or fatal results. Also, many genes have more then one effect, so while the insertion of one gene might perform its intended job, it could also affect other areas. The long term effects of PGD are still not known and could have serious consequences in the future. Many fear that someday PGD will be used to select desirable traits of our children such as hair color, height, or intelligence. Other questions arise as to whether or not this technology is ethical. Some believe it is playing god because parents are selecting which embryos are implanted and which embryo get discarded. The cost of PGD is about $20,000. Many people cannot afford this which could widen the gap between upper and lower class. (Worldwide Couples Head to US to Spend Thousands on Designer Babies)
Reasons for Creating Designer Babies
Many couples want to create a designer baby for two resons.
1. Prevent Disease- PGD can detect genetic disorders in embryos such as huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis. By knowing which embryos contain disease carrying genes doctors are able to select the healthy embryos for implantation. This allows couples to have a healthy child.
2. Genetic Enhancement- Many parents want the perfect child. They want to be able to choose what they will look like as well as other characteristics such as intelligence and athletism. Today, this is not yet possible, however, technology and our knowledge of genes continues to advance at a fast rate, raising concerns about our future. (Designer Babies: Genetic Mutation)