UK's first genetically selected baby born

 

The first British baby genetically selected to be free of a breast cancer gene has been born, doctors said today. She grew from an embryo screened to ensure it did not contain the faulty BRCA 1 gene, which passes the risk of breast cancer down generations.

University College London said the mother and her little girl were doing “very well”.

Announcing her birth, Paul Serhal, medical director of the Assisted Conception Unit at the hospital, said: “This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life.

“The parents will have been spared the risk of inflicting this disease on their daughter.

“The lasting legacy is the eradication of the transmission of this form of cancer that has blighted these families for generations.”

In June the mother, then 27, told how she decided to undergo the screening process after seeing all her husband’s female relatives suffer the disease.

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said at the time: “We felt that, if there was a possibility of eliminating this for our children, then that was a route we had to go down.”

The technique, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has already been used in the UK to free babies of inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.

But breast cancer is different because it does not inevitably affect a child from birth and may or may not develop later in life. There is also a chance it can be cured, if caught early enough.

Permission to carry out PGD for breast cancer had to be obtained from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority by the London clinic which performed the procedure.

The body, which licenses IVF clinics and embryo research, gave the go-ahead after holding a public consultation.

Doctors at the private clinic housed at University College Hospital conducted tests on 11 embryos by removing just one cell from each when they were three days old. Six embryos were found to carry the defective BRCA1 gene.

Two embryos which were free of the gene were implanted, resulting in a single pregnancy.

Faulty genes are responsible for between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the 44,000 cases of breast cancer that occur in the UK each year.

BRCA1 and its sister gene BRCA2 are the two most commonly involved. Women with a defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are up to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer than those without the mutations.

Dr Sarah Cant, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “The decision to screen embryos to see whether they have a faulty breast cancer gene is a complex and very personal issue.

“Women with a family history of breast cancer tell us that what might be right for one person may not be right for another.

“It’s important for anyone affected to have appropriate information and support so they can make the right choice for them.”

A spokeswoman for the hospital said the family did not wish to reveal when the little girl was born.