A revolutionary "universal test" that can enable prospective parents to screen embryos to detect almost any genetic disease in unborn children has been developed by British scientists.
The 1,500-pound "genetic MoT" may be available as early as next year.
The test will allow couples at risk of passing on gene defects to conceive healthy children using IVF treatment.
They say that their test can identify multiple genetic variations, so that scientists could screen for combinations that together confer higher risks of diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
Besides examining for mutations that cause serious disorders such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease, the new test could also reveal an embryo's future susceptibility to a host of other medical conditions.
The researchers say that parents could thus be told about their embryo's future risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, or breast cancer.
The new test could also improve the chances of pregnancy for those who are infertile by selecting embryos that stand the best chance of developing normally.
"We are still validating it, but it is going to be a revolution if it works out. It makes genetic screening very much more straightforward," Times Online quoted Professor Alan Handyside, who has pioneered the technique, as saying.
The new test involves creating embryos by IVF and removing a single cell from each when they are two days old. The cells are tested using a technique known as karyomapping before a healthy embryo is implanted.
While presently only two per cent of the 15,000 known genetic conditions can be identified in this way, the researchers believe that their test can increase the range of such detections in future.
However, Alan Thornhill, the scientific director of the Bridge Centre, said: "When you start looking for more than two or three traits, you've just got no chance of getting a match. You'd need thousands of embryos, and we don't have a practical way of making thousands of embryos."