A baby in Philadelphia is the first to be born with the help of a new technology that experts hope will make it easier for infertile couples to become pregnant, researchers announced Monday at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
Connor Levy arrived on May 18 after his parents were offered the use of “next-generation sequencing” -- an in vitro fertilization technique that guarantees the chromosomal integrity of an embryo before it is returned to the mother.
IVF has created more than 5 million babies since it was first used in 1978, and yet it is a procedure with few guarantees. Currently, one in three embryos resulting from IVF have chromosomal abnormalities that prevent the development into a full-term pregnancy. NGS helps to improve those odds.
When Connor's parents, Marybeth Scheidts and David Levy, underwent IVF at a Philadelphia clinic last fall, 13 embryos were created by the mixing of retrieved egg and sperm, and then cells were taken from each and sent to a British laboratory. Only three of the 13 had the correct chromosomal numbers, and one of those was transferred back into Scheidts.
Experts in the field say the new technique could dramatically increase the pregnancy rate from IVF, by using only the most viable embryos. Until now, the quality of an embryo was educated guesswork, leading doctors to transfer two and three at a time, and contributing to a demographic spike in the births of twins and triplets.
“The good news is that if you can get good quality embryos using this kind of technology, then you can approach non-IVF rates of fertility,” Dr. Edward R. B. McCabe, senior vice president and chief medical officer for the March of Dimes Foundation and co-author of DNA: Promise and Peril, told The Huffington Post.
The authors of the study say that further clinical trials are necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the technique on a larger scale. The news also raises potential questions -- ones that arise with nearly every advance in assisted reproductive technology -- about what limits society wants to place on how and why embryos are screened. If it is acceptable to only transfer embryos that are prescreened for viability, what about those that are determined not to carry certain diseases (a process that is currently possible, and often done)? Or those that are determined to have certain eye color, height or intelligence (screenings that have different degrees of possibility, but not yet being done)?
For those reasons, ethicists are watching closely. Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center, said in an email that Connor’s birth is “both a wonderful breakthrough helping increase viable pregnancies in those using IVF, and a signpost pointing right toward future potential eugenic applications."