A British woman is due to give birth to a 'designer' baby next week, which has been genetically engineered to be free of an inherited form of breast cancer.
The woman (who wants to remain anonymous) and her husband, whose grandmother, mother, sister and cousin were all diagnosed with the disease in their 20s, wanted to avert any chances of having a daughter with the cancer gene.
AdvertisementWith such family history, any daughter the couple have would be at an 80 per cent risk of suffering from the disease.
Thus, they resorted for the treatment, in which a team of doctors screened the woman's embryos and selected those that did not contain the BRCA1 gene.
According to experts, this medical first will bring hope to thousands of other families with a history of the devastating disease, because earlier many women who inherit the breast cancer gene have undergone radical surgery to remove their breasts.
Fertility expert Paul Serhal, medical director of the assisted conception unit at University College London, treated the 27-year-old woman from London.
"This is a landmark technique that has been clinically improved and developed over the past few years and can now be offered as a successful option to other couples who carry this genetic abnormality," The Daily Express quoted Serhal as saying.
In April, the doctors performed the embryo screening and implanted two embryos out of five free of the cancer gene.
While Serhal agreed that the move would be controversial, he said screening an embryo to remove the chance of contracting a killer disease was different to creating a child with certain physical characteristics.
"This is a technology that is there to prevent some very serious diseases. This procedure should be given to women as an option. When you have a patient who carries this gene and she is concerned about passing this abnormality on to her child, you have to give heroptions," said Serhal.
He added: "Up until now a patient had no option other than accepting what we call reproductive roulette. This is not about altering physical characteristics.
"You cannot equate a procedure that is preventing cancer, something very serious, with some unscrupulous person who wants to do this for cosmetic reasons. That will never happen in the UK."
However, the procedure is being criticised by many, including the Catholic Church, who are claiming that the treatment is unethical because viable embryos are destroyed.
Dr Alan Thornhill, of The London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre, said: "It is a victory for both the parents and the regulatory body that licensed this treatment. Critics are ill-advised calling this important treatment 'gene manipulation'."