New IVF embryo screening method developed

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new method of embryo screening promises to give prospective parents using IVF a greater ability to screen for hereditary diseases, including some forms of cancer.

The test analyses the full length of a cell's DNA rather than looking for specific mutations in single genes, speeding up the process of screening embryos.

Using the DNA "fingerprint" researchers say they will be able to find the genetic markers for a huge range of diseases.

"We are always striving to maximise the chance that fertility treatment will be successful," said chairman of the British Fertility Society Dr Mark Hamilton.

"Any technique which has the potential to reduce the risk of serious, debilitating and potentially life-threatening disease has to be greeted with some enthusiasm."

Under the current screening process, doctors have to examine single genes looking for the mutations responsible for hereditary conditions, a process that is costly and time-consuming.

The new technique, known as pre-implantation genetic haplotyping, compares blood samples from relatives against embryonic DNA to search for the hereditary flaws.

So far, five women have become pregnant using the screening and scientists say that they expect several hundred couples a year to benefit from the technique.

The research, developed by scientists at Guy's Hospital in London, was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's annual meeting in Prague.