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article imageConnor Levy first IVF baby born using genetic screening method

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By JohnThomas Didymus     Jul 8, 2013 in Health
Connor Levy is the first baby to be born from an embryo screened for genetic abnormalities using a new, fast, efficient and cheap technique called next-generation sequencing (NGS) that promises to dramatically improve IVF success rates.
NGS relies on the latest developments in DNA sequencing to screen chromosomes for abnormalities.
According to the Guardian, before Connor Levy's parents Philadelphia couple Marybeth Scheidts, 36, and David Levy, 41, signed up at the Main Line Fertility clinic in Pennsylvania, they had tried other options, including intrauterine insemination (IUI) without success.
Doctors at the Main Line Fertility clinic offered the couple the NGS option which allowed them to check their IVF embryos for abnormalities so as to increase the chances of successful implantation.
Connor Levy was born on 18 May, after cells from the couple's IVF embryos were sent to specialists in Oxford, who ran checks on them for genetic abnormalities.
According to Reuters, experts estimate that only about 30 percent of embryos selected during in-vitro fertilization (IVF) implant successfully and that failures are due mostly to genetic abnormalities and chromosome defects.
Experts say that the chances of abnormalities such as an embryo having the wrong number of chromosomes increase with the mother's age and to some extent the father's. Women in their 20s may have only about one in 10 embryos with abnormal chromosomes while women in their 40s may have up to 75 percent of their chromosomes with abnormalities.
Under circumstances of natural implantation and in IVF procedures, embryos with abnormal chromosomes simply fail to implant and those that do are often miscarried. The few that survive to full term are born with some form of genetic disorder such as Downs syndrome of Turner syndrome.
NGS enables doctors to select embryos with the right number of chromosomes which have better chances of successful implantation leading to birth of a normal and healthy baby. The most significant benefit of being able to select the embryo with the best chances of successful implantation is that the cost of IVF procedure is greatly reduced.
Experts say that the new procedure shows how next-generation sequencing (NGS), a technique developed to screen entire genomes for abnormalities, will be used cheaply and efficiently in the future to select the best embryos for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
Using the current technique scientists are only able to run checks on chromosomes which hold DNA. However, improvements in genome sequencing technology accompanied by falling cost of whole genome sequencing procedures will make it possible in the future for doctors to screen the entire DNA of IVF embryos for the best one to use for implantation.
Whole genome sequencing will allow doctors to assess the chances that any embryo would develop certain types of illnesses and abnormalities, such as Down's Syndrome, and later in life, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Doctors at the Main Line Fertility clinic prepared 13 IVF embryos and sent a few cells from each embryo to Dagan Wells, a specialist at the Oxford University, for screening. The tests showed that only three of the embryos were free of abnormalities.
With the vital information, the doctors at Main Line Line Fertility clinic were able to select a healthy embryo for implantation while storing the rest away. The embryo implanted successfully and grew into Connor Levy, who was born on May 18.
According to the BBC, Marybeth Scheidts, 36, and her husband David Levy, 41, had been trying for a baby naturally for four years before they decided to seek other means.
Marybeth, delighted at having a baby after so many years of trying for one, said: "It takes its toll, there were some days I would break down and cry, I wanted to hide in my bedroom and say stop. Then to see him... all this hard work and we have finally got our little tiny human being named Connor."
Wells at Oxford, commenting on the new method, said: "It can't make embryos better than they were in the beginning, but it can guide us to the best ones."
Being able to select the best embryo increases the chances of success at first trial and spares couples the pain of failure after repeated trails.
Scheidts told the Guardian: "I think it saved us a lot of heartache. My insurance covered me for three cycles of IVF. We might have gone through all three without the doctors picking the right embryos. I would not have a baby now."
The Guardian reports that Michael Glassner at the Main Line Fertility Clinic, said: "It is hard to overstate how revolutionary this is. This increases pregnancy rates by 50 percent across the board and reduces miscarriages by a similar margin. It will be much less expensive. In five years, this will be state of the art and everyone who comes for IVF will have it."
According to the BBC, Glassner, speaking about his experience with couples, said: "If you have ever sat across the desk from a patient that has failed or is in that crossroads of thinking of another cycle and you look in their eyes where they are barely able to hold on to their hopes and dreams - anything that is so significantly going to impact pregnancy rates is going to become standard.So I think five years from now you fast forward - yes I think it will be standard."
Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynecologist and director of IVF at Hammersmith Hospital, said: "This is amazing science. They done the work in humans, they've pregnancies."
Reuters reports he added: "It gives us a very, very powerful tool for examining pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and gives us increased confidence when looking at multiple genetic abnormalities in a human embryo."
A second baby who has gone through the same procedure will be born next month to another US couple, the Guardian reports.
Wells will present his study results at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting in London on Monday.
A previous procedure that also allows doctors to screen for abnormal chromosomes called Array CGH, is much more expensive than NGS. According to the BBC, the old procedure can cost between £2,000 and £3,000 in the UK and according to Marybeth Scheidts, it would have cost her about $6,000 (£4,100) in the US.
Wells said that NGS could bring the cost of screening for genetic abnormalities down by a third. Reuters reports he said: "We can do this at a cost which is about a half to two-thirds of what current chromosome screening costs are. If further randomized trials confirm this, we could reach a point where there is a very strong economic argument that this should be offered very widely - perhaps to the majority of IVF patients."
Wells told the BBC: "Current tests are adding a significant amount of money on to an already expensive procedure and that is limiting access; most patients are having to pay for this out of pocket themselves. What our technique does is it gives you the number of chromosomes and other biological information about the embryo at a low cost - probably about two thirds of the price of existing methods of screening."
Given that the ability to screen entire genomes in the future will allow doctors to predict not only the chances that a baby will be born with serious genetic abnormalities but also the chances of developing diseases later in life, ethical issues that may arise in connection with the temptation to profile individuals in detail before they are born are already in focus. In the UK for instance, doctors are not allowed to select embryos for abnormalities beside the most serious ones. Glassner said: "You can start to have a very scary picture painted if you talk about height and hair color and so on. We have to make sure this is used judiciously."
However, at present, parents may not be able to indulge fully in their taste for "designer babies." According to Wells: "IVF is still expensive and uncomfortable with no guarantee of a baby at the end. I can't imagine many people wanting to go through the strains of IVF for something trivial."
The Oxford team plans a larger study to assess how the procedure improves pregnancy rates and which age groups will benefit most.
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