The company that two years ago promised to be able to genetically select our children already has its first results
About two years ago, Genomic Prediction started making noise in the biotech world. The idea behind it was as simple as it was disruptive: Why not introduce the famous DNA tests being done in the standard fertilization process. in vitro? That is, why don't we actively (and genetically) select our children?
Today, the company says it is capable of using this type of genetic testing to determine which embryo from an IVF procedure is least likely to develop up to 11 different diseases.In the coming weeks, they will make their first cases public, but thanks to Antonio Regalado, we began to have some data on this service that, frankly, can change many things.
Choose your baby for a small fee
In IVF processes, several embryos are often created to maximize the chances of the intervention being successful and the pregnancy reaching term. What Genomic Prediction proposes is to analyze the genetic material of these embryos to choose those with the lowest risk of diabetes, heart attacks or up to five types of cancer.
Genomic analysis does not stop there. As they explain, the company will also notify parents if their future child will be among the lowest 2% of the population or if they have genetic variants associated with poor intelligence. Indeed: we are in Gattaca (or, at least, very close to it)
For now, the project is in a preliminary stage and, although they are already doing embryo analysis, the company says "it is not sure if any of them has been used to start a pregnancy." This does not mean that he has raised several million dollars and is doing a strong marketing campaign among fertility doctors and people interested in IVF.
"Science just isn't there yet"
The mechanics of the test are simple: from a small sample of cells, Genomic Prediction claims to be able to analyze thousands of genetic positions and estimate the risk of having a dozen diseases. It sounds good, but (as expected) it generates a lot of controversy. Above all, among the same researchers in the area.
"It is irresponsible to suggest that science is at the point where we could reliably predict which embryo to select to minimize the risk of disease. The science is simply not there yet," explained Graham Coop, geneticist at the University of California, Davis, at the MIT Tech Review. And honestly, he is right in the world.
There is a very small set of clearly localized genetic diseases that are easy to "select". It is something that has been talked about for a long time, but the reality is that our knowledge of the tricks of genetics is far from being ready to start selecting children.
A few days ago, for example, we were talking about a lady who, despite having a mutation closely related to early Alzheimer's, had another one that made her immune to the effects of the disease. In her case, a DNA test would have caused her decades of anxiety about an illness that, afterward, simply never came. If the genetic tests for adults present many problems and can cause many personal damages, the embryo tests give us a false security that, later, can be very expensive.
When we stop conceiving children "naturally"
However, it is clear that Genomic Prediction is, in some way, marking the future of reproduction. It is clear that the technology is not there. Furthermore, it is quite clear that technology will never be there for the vast majority of complex traits that we humans have.
But what will happen when a significant number of mutations are selectable in a few hours? What will happen when IVF ceases to be a fertility treatment and becomes a trump card in raising our children? Will we stop conceiving them naturally? Will IVF become the default method? How will that impact sex and social and personal relationships?
As you can see, there are many questions and few answers. Which is still problematic because, as Genomic Prediction shows, it is not science fiction, they are issues on the table.
Image | Christian bowen