Today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago, the JRC organised a scientific symposium on Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a service provided by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics to parents who want to avoid passing on genetic diseases to their children.
PGD entails carrying out genetic tests on embryos in a laboratory to identify those that have a healthy version of a given gene. These embryos can then be safely implanted in a mother's womb. Not be confused with the more far-reaching and separate issue of actual genetic engineering with a view to creating 'designer babies', PGD enables fertilisation clinics to select embryos for implantation so that at-risk families can avoid passing on genetic disease to their children and to subsequent generations. Nevertheless, many questions continue to surround the technique.
The JRC-organised symposium on PDF featured Dr Tarek El Toukhy from St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London, Susannah Baruch from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore and the JRC's own Dolores Ibarreta from the JRC Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) in Seville. It was moderated by Karen Sermon from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.
A lively debate with the audience followed the session.
EU legislation requires that the Community establish high quality and safety standards for the use of blood, organs and other substances of human origin. A JRC report in late 2007 showed that guidelines were urgently needed on the counselling of patients that opt to screen their embryos created by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for serious genetic disorders.