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In vitro fertilization

Scientists develop new method of genetically screening IVF embryos to improve pregnancy rates, but is IVF even safe?

Friday, August 09, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: in vitro fertilization, IVF, eugenics

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(NaturalNews) The viability of in vitro fertilization (IVF) as an effective way to become pregnant is on the upswing, thanks to a recent discovery out of the U.K. New technology that prescreens embryos for genetic defects before implanting them has the potential to boost IVF success rates by as much as 50 percent or more, say some experts, which is already making it more feasible for couples who otherwise cannot do so naturally to have children.

Currently, IVF is a largely inconsistent alternative to normal pregnancy, often ending in disappointing failure. As many as 80 percent of all IVF embryos, in fact, fail to successfully implant due to abnormal chromosomes that remain undetected during conventional screenings. But the new technology makes it possible to analyze large portions of embryonic DNA for chromosome defects prior to implant, allowing for a much higher success rate.

Known as next-generation sequencing (NGS), the technology is capable of quickly scanning the human genome for any atypical patterns that might inhibit a successful implant. According to the U.K.'s Independent, machines that utilize NGS can scan millions of strands of DNA from a single cell taken from an embryo and produce instant and accurate results. From this, fertility doctors can assess which embryos have the best chances of survival, and use those in their patients.

"Many of the embryos produced during infertility treatments have no chance of becoming a baby because they carry lethal genetic abnormalities," says Dr. Dagan Wells from the Biomedical Research Centre at Oxford University. Dr. Dagan helped develop NGS technology. "Next generation sequencing improves our ability to detect these abnormalities and help us to identify the embryos with the best chances of producing a viable pregnancy."

Baby boy successfully born in Pennsylvania following advanced IVF screening

The technology has already been a success in the U.S., where a Pennsylvania couple recently gave birth to a baby boy that was conceived through IVF. According to the U.K.'s Guardian, young Connor Levy from Philadelphia is living proof that NGS technology can not only reduce some of the risks associated with IVF but also refine the process to be more foolproof.

"It can't make embryos better than they were in the beginning, but it can guide us to the best ones," says Dr. Wells about the technology, quelling fears that it might be used in its current form to weed out "undesirables" as part of some kind of eugenics agenda. To the contrary, existing NGS technology merely helps fertility clinics avoid implanting defective embryos that never would have developed in the first place.

"It is hard to overstate how revolutionary this is," says Michael Glassner, the fertility expert at the Main Line Fertility clinic who helped the Levys conceive Connor. "This (technology) increases pregnancy rates by 50 percent across the board and reduces miscarriages by a similar margin ... In five years, this will be state of the art and everyone who comes for IVF will have it."

Is IVF technology actually safe?

Recognizing the potential for abuse later on down the road, however, Glassner has also emphasized that the technology needs to be guarded and used sensibly moving forward. The idea that parents may one day be able to select the most "perfect" embryos to attain "designer" babies, for instance, is troubling, and reminiscent of what took place in the sci-fi thriller movie Gattaca.

Beyond this, some studies have also shown that IVF itself, and the hormones used to induce it, may be a cause of cancer in some women. A 2012 study out of Australia, for example, found that women who receive IVF treatments have up to a 50 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer due to massively increased levels of a hormone known as oestrogen.

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