Dr. Avnish Jolly, 3rd March, 2009 ;Dr Jeff Steinberg, Los Angeles Fertility Institutes played a key role in the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby is ready to deliver the first ‘designer baby’ next year. Using a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the clinic says it will allow would-be parents to choose the gender, skin, eye and hair colour and other physical traits of their babies. Many couples have queued up for this service and however, there will be no guarantees about 100 per cent success, the clinic says.
This service will be available only to couples seeking in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), according to the clinic and it will come at a price of US $18,000 per child. The institute, which claims to be already using the PGD technique for selection of gender with a success rate of more than 99 per cent, says it will now extend it to choose genetic traits of offspring.
The PGD technique has been used in clinics since the 1990s to check embryos whether they have inherited genes with life-threatening diseases. The technique involves fertilising eggs in a laboratory. When the embryos are three days old, scientists take out a cell from it and analyse it. If they find that the cell has an abnormal chromosome, the embryo is discarded as it will lead to babies with genetic defects.
But the Los Angeles clinic is now extending the PGD technique from detecting genetic diseases to trait selection. Steinberg, who pioneered IVF in the 1970s, says his clinic learnt how to use it for genetic traits like eye colour while trying to screen out albinism. Albinism is a congenital disorder which leads to lack of melanin pigment in the eyes, hair and skin.
According to Steinberg, people seeking the PGD treatment want their babies to be free from genetic illness. The breakthrough has raised ethical questions about the use of fertility techniques to design babies like shelf commodities.
To deny them the ability to do that when the technology is there is to me unethical, he was quoted as saying by an Australian wire service and you can say eye colour and hair colour are not diseases, no they are not, and there is a cosmetic element to it, but we fix crooked noses all the time, he added.