Posted on October 23, 2015

Blood Test ‘Allows Couples to Screen Out Abnormalities’

Sarah Knapton, Telegraph, October 23, 2015

A controversial blood test which allows couples to test for thousands of genetic flaws which they could pass on to a baby is now being sold in Britain.

Hundreds of prospective parents have already bought the test which tells them if a combination of their genes puts them at risk of having a child with an incurable disease.

The compatibility test, which costs £1,800, checks for 4,500 mutations and can flag up more than 600 hereditary diseases, including some that kill within the first years of life. Results come back within 30 days.

If couples are told they are at risk of having an ill child they can decide whether to adopt, have IVF treatment or go ahead and get pregnant naturally.

Spanish firm iGenomix, which developed the test, says pre-pregnancy genetic screening could soon become as commonplace as ultrasound scans and cut the number of children born with diseases like muscular dystrophy from one in 25 to one in 100,000.

But critics claim it could create a society where those who a rich enough can screen out ill health, while poorer people are left with disabled children, who are then stigmatised.

The NHS does pre-pregnancy testing but focuses on people with a family history of just a few conditions.

The new test is now available at Randox Health clinics in London and Northern Ireland and hundreds of Britons have already signed up although it is not known if anyone has yet used that information to select embryos.

A recent study by iGenomix found that 8 per cent of couples were “clinically incompatible”, meaning both had the same faulty DNA. Such couples would be told there was a one in four chance of their child being ill and counselled on their options.

These include an IVF technique, in which only healthy embryos are implanted in the womb, the use of donor eggs or sperm or adoption. Some women may opt to get pregnant naturally and abort later.

Dr Jenny Dobbs, a fertility consultant at Randox Health, said couples who had undergone the test in the UK so far included both those thinking about trying to conceive naturally as well as those considering fertility treatment.

She said the majority of the couples who had chosen to undergo the test “simply wanted to take as much precaution as possible”, and were looking for “peace of mind”.

“I have had experience of people who have had their test and their results have been good, so they’ve got peace of mind,” she said.

But not all of those undergoing the test have had been so lucky.

“The options for couples who do find out they could be affected are that they do nothing, and risk having a child that has a disease. But that doesn’t happen because you wouldn’t take the test in the first place if you weren’t going to act on it.

“The other options are not to have a child, not to have a family, to adopt or to have IVF treatment, where they can screen the embryos and only implant a healthy embryo in the womb.”

Dr Dobbs also revealed that some of the Brits who had undergone the test were single, and some had not even been thinking about starting a family in the immediate future.

She explained: “There are people who have had the test who aren’t thinking of having a child right now.”

Dr Peter FitzGerald, managing director of Randox Health, said: “Our wide-ranging new screen will detect potential problems before pregnancy by obtaining information from both parents.

“With this test, we can alert prospective parents to the risk of serious genetic conditions.”

Conditions that the test picks up include cystic fibrosis, which is carried by one in 25 Britons, as well as rarer conditions that cause blindness, blood disorders and life-threatening hormonal problems. Conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are not included.

The new test was presented at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual conference.