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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
First embryo screening birth
Baby Tom Ballantyne Roberts
Baby Tom was born six weeks ago
A British woman has given birth to a child which was screened as an embryo to make sure it was healthy - even though there was no family history of genetic disorders.

It is believed to be the first such birth in the UK.

Up until now, only women with a family history of genetic disease could have embryos checked in this way.

The rules were changed last year and doctors believe this test could help more woman to have babies.

'A dream come true'

Clare Ballantyne-Roberts, 43, who lives in Cheshire, gave birth to baby Tom six weeks ago.

She had almost given up trying to have a second child after 12 cycles of IVF treatment failed.

We are so happy. It is a dream come true for us
Clare Ballantyne Roberts
"We're still pinching ourselves. We are so happy. It is a dream come true for us," she told the BBC.

"We've waited 14 years to complete our family. There were times we didn't think it would happen."

The test, called aneuploidy screening, involves checking IVF embryos for signs of genetic abnormalities by taking a single cell for analysis.

As women get older, the chances of producing abnormal embryos increases steadily - and experts believe that screening may be a way to improve the fertility of older women.

These abnormalities are blamed for many cases of recurrent miscarriage, and might be the cause of "unexplained infertility" in many other women.

The test is already available in parts of Europe and the United States.

In the UK, it can be offered to women over the age of 36 or to women who have had repeated miscarriages.

It costs in the region of 2,000, doubling the cost of IVF treatment.

However, doctors believe it could dramatically increase IVF success rates.

At the moment, the national success rate for all fertility clinics is around 22% for each cycle of IVF.

Doctors believe this test could increase the chances of a having a baby to between 60% and 80%.

Dr Mohammed Taranissi of the Assisted Reproduction & Gynaecology Centre in London said it could also reduce multiple IVF births, which can pose a risk to babies and mothers.

"There are a lot of potential benefits from this technology - reduced miscarriage rate, increased pregnancy rate, increased implantation rate, reduce the number of multiple births and its associated risks," he said.

"This is the future of IVF."

However, it is controversial. Critics say it is another step towards designing a baby.

Angela McNab of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority said there were no plans to make the test available to other women.

"We now need to evaluate the effectiveness and long term safety risks before we consider widening it," she said.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Six-week old Tom, is living proof that the technique works"



SEE ALSO:
Success for embryo screening
17 Jun 03  |  Health
IVF gene ruling 'one-off'
16 May 03  |  Health


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