Test to screen for all genetic diseases

Couples may be given the option of screening embryos for all genetic diseases

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A “universal test,” created by British scientists, is near completion and is designed to help parents at risk of passing on genetic defects to conceive healthy children using IVF treatment.

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The test can identify the genetic defects behind conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.

But in contrast to previous examinations, the test will take just weeks to put together and is said to be capable of detecting the trace of almost any condition.

It could even enable scientists to screen unborn children for risks of developing heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s in later life.

It is claimed the test will be ready to launch as early as next year at an estimated cost of £1,500.

If successful, the development will widely broaden the range of inherited diseases that can be identified in embryos and the speed and accuracy at which they are traced. Currently, as few as two per cent of the 15,000 known genetic conditions can be identified.

Professor Alan Handyside, who has pioneered the technique, is said to be planning to apply for a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

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Last night critics warned the move would add further fire to the ethical debate raging over the controversial “manufacturing” of so-called designer babies by giving couples an option to pick and choose.

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