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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Future Is Here: Baby "Engineered" To Save Older Brother


Little Javier, born this past Sunday, is the first “genetically engineered” baby in Spain to be both free of his family’s hereditary disease and transplant-compatible with his older brother. His family decided to undergo a genetic pre-implant diagnosis treatment, hoping both for a second child, and a cure for their older son. The family, from Cadiz in southern Spain, had their first child, Andres, only to discover that he suffered from a rare hereditary disease called Beta Thalassaemia major. The disease causes the body to fail to produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells, so 6-year-old Andres would only be expected to live about ten years unless he had aggressive treatment.

When the parents discussed having a second child, they realized they might have found a cure for Andres at the same time. If Javier could be sure to be free of the disease, and also an immunological match for Andres, he would be the ideal donor for a vital bone marrow transplant to Andres. So the parents went for it.

After the green light from the National Commission for Assisted Reproduction, Javier and Andres’ parents chose to resort to a genetic pre-implant diagnosis; a technique that allows [one] to verify if an embryo is healthy from a genetic point of view, before transferring it to the mother’s uterus. For this type of diagnosis, absolutely prohibited in Italy, the embryo obtained by ‘in vitro’ fertilization’ is genetically examined to verify that it does not carry any diseases.

Once Javier was born, doctors were able to determine that he was indeed an immunological match, and his cord blood was stored in a blood-bank for a future transplant to Andres. Up until this point, none of the medical treatments have worked for the older son, and a transplant became the only way to save him.

According to doctors, the blood in [Javier’s] umbilical cord will be used in a bone marrow transplant for his brother, so the boy will be able to start producing healthy red blood cells. “The possibility of healing the boy after the transplant is very high.”

Jesus, imagine the guilt potential between these two. “Javier took my truck!” “But I was born to save you from certain death.” Yeah, shit, they’re either going to be specially bonded besties, or bitter mortal enemies over this drama.

What do you think: Is it wrong to genetically screen our embryos? What about “designing” your baby to help another one of your kids?