Selecting embryos to cure siblings

A genetically matched baby has been born in Britain to a couple desperate to cure their other son who has a rare form of anaemia. The case is bound to rekindle debate over the ethics of stem-cell research.

    Jamie's umbilical cord may help
    save his brother's life

    Jamie Whitaker was delivered by Caesarean section at a hospital in Sheffield, in the north of England, on Monday after being genetically matched, while still an IVF embryo, to his four-year-old brother Charlie, the British Daily Mail newspaper reported.
    The youngster has the rare Diamond Blackfan anaemia, which only a transplant of stem cells from a sibling with a perfect tissue match can cure.
    His parents, Jayson and Michelle Whitaker, had turned to the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, Illinois for treatment after Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority refused them permission to genetically select a tissue match embryo.
    "All we did was change the odds from a one-in-four chance of a tissue match to a 98 percent chance," Whitaker, 33, a business manager who recently moved his family from Oxfordshire to Derbyshire, told the Daily Mail.
    "There was no selection on the basis of colour of eyes or hair or sex," he explained.
    He added: "There are blood tests being carried out now to see if Jamie is a perfect tissue match and we will know in a few days, but at the moment we don't want to think about the stem cell blood."
    The vital stem cells have already been collected from Jamie's umbilical cord and tests will also be carried out to determine if the new baby has the same anaemia condition as his brother. 
    No 'designer' baby

    The Daily Mail, in a front-page exclusive, said the Whitakers' newborn was "Britain's first 'designer' baby."
    But Lana Rechitsky, of the Chicago Reproductive Genetics Institute, told the BBC that the child was the second born in Britain as a tissue match.
    She rejected suggestions that Michelle Whitaker's fertility treatment was unethical.
    "The main thing people say we are doing wrong is they say we are making designer babies. That is wrong," the doctor said.
    "These are not designer babies. We are not creating anything new. We are just trying to choose between the embryos to find the one that is normal and can save the life of its sibling," she said.
    "These are not babies brought into the world just to save the sibling's life. These are families who want a healthy child -- and if that healthy child can also save the life of the child they already have, I think it is a double blessing. There was no other way for Charlie to survive."
    Rechitsky said doctors had selected among 10 embryos to choose one which would be able to provide appropriate stem cells.
    The Whitakers will have to wait six months before Charlie is treated, in order to ensure that Jamie is not affected by the same syndrome.
    But Rechitsky said that there was believed to be no more than a three percent chance of this happening.


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