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Is it possible for genetic disorders to be passed on to children with IVF treatment?

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Introduction: The possibility of passing on genetic disorders through IVF treatment is a topic that has garnered significant attention in recent years. While these concerns are valid, it is crucial to understand the actual risks and the advances in medical technology that help mitigate them. This article aims to provide a balanced perspective, examining the likelihood of genetic disorders such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome being passed on through IVF. We will also explore how Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), now often referred to as PGT-M, can significantly reduce this risk. As more couples, including those without fertility issues, inquire about PGD in Bangkok, we at our fertility clinic prioritize providing the best possible advice and options for our patients.

Genetic Disorders and IVF Treatment

While there have been several reports in the press in recent years about genetic disorders and IVF treatment, we felt that it was time that we put together an article that kept things in perspective. Although there is indeed an increased chance of some very rare genetic disorders such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome being passed on, the chances are still incredibly low.

When PGD (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis) which is now often referred to as PGT-M is used, the chances of passing on genetic disorders is massively reduced.

An increasing number of patients are now enquiring about PGD in Bangkok. It can be used in conjunction with IVF, and often this is from couples who do not have any fertility issues. As a responsible fertility clinic in Bangkok, we are always conscious of ensuring that all of our patients receive the best possible advice so that couples where one or both partners may be predisposed to genetic disorders, IVF and PGD is an option we would discuss.

How PGD and IVF Reduce Genetic Disorders

PGD is an advanced procedure designed to assist couples who have genuine concerns that if they conceive a child, there is a higher chance that it may be born with either a genetic or chromosome disorder. PGD allows clinicians to analyze genes and chromosomes looking for over 100 genetic conditions. Even if a couple potentially has an ailment that isn’t already commonly tested, a test could be designed specifically for that disorder.

It brings immense comfort that there is hope for couples who had previously decided against starting a family.

During the IVF treatment, the female will be given a cocktail of prescription medication designed to stimulate egg production artificially. Once egg production has reached optimal levels in the lead doctor’s view, the eggs will be harvested and taken to a laboratory. Around the same time, the male partner will be asked to provide a sperm sample, and this will be used to fertilize the eggs in a laboratory.

Once a blastocyst embryo has formed, a small sample of cells will be taken for analysis six days after fertilization. It is at this point the PGD procedure commences. The analysis will be done in a genetic laboratory to check for a selection of genetic disorders. Any embryos that have one or more conditions will be removed, leaving only the healthy ones remaining. Depending on the number of healthy embryos, some or all will be implanted back in the womb of the female, thus significantly reducing the possibility of a genetic disorder being passed on.

Suitability of PGD and IVF

PGD and IVF, in this case, would be suited to couples who believe that they have a higher chance than usual of being a carrier of a genetic disorder. In this instance, it would include carriers of sex-linked, single gene and translocation disorders. Indeed, as touched upon, a feasibility study could be conducted for couples who feel there is an increased likelihood of another hereditary condition that is not already being tested for being passed on to the child.

Effectiveness and Risks of PGD

Like almost all medical treatments, PGD does not carry 100% success rates which means that it is impossible to promise couples that their child won’t be born with a genetic disorder. However, it does significantly reduce the chances, but several points are worth considering before you embark on the course of treatment.

We’ve found that thorough consultations and personalized evaluations are essential in guiding couples through the process of PGD and IVF to ensure they understand both the benefits and limitations of these advanced reproductive technologies.Although PGD is used to test for over 100 known genetic disorders, many aren’t commonly tested for. There are many reasons for this, including the chances of the disorder being passed on are incredibly slim and therefore, to carry out this test is not viable. Also, the cost of testing for all known conditions makes it infeasible, or that the genetic disorder order isn’t yet known about or an approved test hasn’t been designed.

Family photo walking together in the park.

Family photo walking together in the park.

Parental Awareness and Genetic Disorders

Some potential parents, whether deliberately or not, may be unaware if they are carriers which can complicate the issue. A disorder which patients frequently ask to be tested for is Huntington’s Disease. In the past, an individual might not have wanted to know whether they had the condition. However, they may wish to stop their child from getting the disease. In this case, testing is more complex as the “at risk” parent’s status is unknown.

As a professional fertility clinic, we always explain to patients that they may require more than one IVF course. In very rare cases, all tested embryos may return “affected” results meaning that there would be a higher risk of the baby developing the disorder. Unfortunately, this will inevitably mean additional cost for the parents as well as increasing the emotional strain. Some would-be parents decide not to continue treatment in these cases.

Challenges in Developing Unique Tests

All PGD tests are unique and must be developed on an individual-family basis, requiring significant amounts of work in the laboratory prior to testing. Even for more common conditions such as:

  • Sickle cell
  • Anemia
  • Cystic fibrosis

It generally takes over a month for the test to be prepared. For less prevalent disorders, it can take significantly longer or may not be possible at all – something that is, of course, heartbreaking news for families.

Conclusion

In infrequent circumstances, IVF alone may increase the chances of a genetic disorder being passed on to a child. However, it should be stressed that the possibilities are extremely low. More often than not, PGD is used in conjunction with IVF to reduce the chances of a disorder being passed on to the child. Of course, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility, but it does significantly reduce it.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Is PGD and How Does It Work with IVF?

PGD (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis), now often referred to as PGT-M, is an advanced procedure that allows clinicians to analyze genes and chromosomes for over 100 genetic conditions. During IVF treatment, eggs are fertilized in a laboratory, and when a blastocyst embryo forms, a small sample of cells is taken for genetic analysis. Embryos with identified genetic disorders are removed, leaving only healthy ones for implantation, thus reducing the chances of a genetic disorder being passed on.

2. Who Can Benefit from PGD and IVF?

PGD and IVF are suitable for couples who believe they have a higher than usual chance of being carriers of genetic disorders. This includes carriers of sex-linked, single gene, and translocation disorders. A feasibility study can also be conducted for couples who suspect they carry other hereditary conditions not commonly tested.

3. How Does IVF Treatment Work?

During IVF treatment, the female partner is given medication to stimulate egg production. Once optimal egg levels are achieved, the eggs are harvested and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. After fertilization, and once an embryo forms, it undergoes PGD to check for genetic disorders. Healthy embryos are then implanted in the womb.

4. Is PGD Completely Foolproof?

No, PGD is not 100% foolproof. While it significantly reduces the chances of a genetic disorder being passed on, it does not eliminate the risk entirely. It’s important to consider this and discuss all aspects with a fertility specialist.

5. Are There Any Risks or Limitations Associated with PGD?

PGD cannot test for all genetic disorders, and some disorders might remain undetected. Additionally, potential parents might not always be aware they are carriers, complicating the situation. In rare cases, more than one course of IVF treatment may be required, which can be financially and emotionally taxing.

6. How Long Does It Take to Develop PGD Tests?

Developing PGD tests takes significant time and must be done on an individual-family basis. For common conditions like cystic fibrosis, it generally takes over a month to prepare the test. For less common conditions, it can take much longer or may not be possible at all.

7. Can IVF Alone Increase the Chances of Genetic Disorders?

In very infrequent cases, IVF alone might slightly increase the chances of genetic disorders being passed on. However, this risk is extremely low. Using PGD in conjunction with IVF significantly reduces this risk.

8. What Should Couples Consider Before Opting for PGD and IVF?

Couples should consider that PGD isn’t infallible, and it may not detect all genetic disorders. Additionally, multiple IVF cycles could be required, resulting in higher costs and emotional stress. It’s also important to be prepared for the time it takes to develop unique PGD tests.

9. Does PGD Affect the Success Rate of IVF?

PGD does not negatively affect the success rate of IVF. In fact, it aids in selecting the healthiest embryos for implantation, potentially increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy.

10. What Are the Ethical Considerations of Using PGD?

Ethical considerations include the potential emotional and moral implications of selecting embryos based on genetic testing. Couples should have thorough discussions with healthcare providers and consider counseling to navigate these complex decisions.

  • Published on : Wednesday February 10, 2021
  • Last updated : Thursday July 4, 2024
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About the author

Michelle Tan is an IVF Consultant with 12 years of experience in fertility consulting. Having personally undergone IVF and surrogacy, she brings firsthand insight and empathy to her work. Based in Singapore, Michelle frequently travels to clinics in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Bishkek, sharing her expertise and supporting patients on their fertility journeys.