The World’s First Gattaca Baby Tests Are Finally Here

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An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Anxious couples are approaching fertility doctors in the US with requests for a hotly debated new genetic test being called “23andMe, but on embryos.” The baby-picking test is being offered by a New Jersey startup company, Genomic Prediction, whose plans we first reported on two years ago. The company says it can use DNA measurements to predict which embryos from an IVF procedure are least likely to end up with any of 11 different common diseases. In the next few weeks it’s set to release case studies on its first clients.

Handed report cards on a batch of frozen embryos, parents can use the test results to try to choose the healthiest ones. The grades include risk estimates for diabetes, heart attacks, and five types of cancer. According to flyers distributed by the company, it will also warn clients about any embryo predicted to become a person who is among the shortest 2% of the population, or who is in the lowest 2% in intelligence. The test is straight out of the science fiction film Gattaca, a movie that’s one of the inspirations of the startup’s CEO, Laurent Tellier. The company’s other cofounders are testing expert Nathan Treff and Stephen Hsu, a Michigan State University administrator and media pundit. So far, fertility centers have not leaped at the chance to offer the test, which is new and unproven. Instead, prospective parents are learning about the designer baby reports through word of mouth or news articles and taking the company’s flyer to their doctors. “The test (called “LifeView”) is carried out on a few cells plucked from a days-old IVF embryo,” the report says. “Then Genomic Prediction measures its DNA at several hundred thousand genetic positions, from which it says it can create a statistical estimate, called a ‘polygenic score,’ of the chance of disease later in life.”

Criticism of the company from some genetics researchers has been intense. “It is irresponsible to suggest that the science is at the point where we could reliably predict which embryo to select to minimize the risk of disease. The science simply isn’t there yet,” says Graham Coop, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, and a frequent critic of the company on Twitter.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.



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