A baby has been born with the help of a hi-tech genetic screening technique that raises the prospect of embryo selection on the NHS.
The American boy’s mother was one of two patients who were the first to try the “genetic jigsaw” method of identifying viable IVF embryos.
Another woman, also from the US, is said to be close to giving birth.
The technique, known as “next-generation sequencing”, uses powerful computer software to match together random broken fragments of DNA.
It allows clinicians to spot chromosomal abnormalities in an IVF embryo very rapidly, without resorting to deep freeze storage while waiting for results, and can also be used to spot serious gene defects.
Because of its speed and efficiency, next-generation sequencing (NGS) has the potential to slash the cost of embryo screening.
Identifying “normal” embryos that are likely to implant in the womb and produce a baby can add another £3,000 to the bill for IVF treatment, currently around £5,000 per cycle.
Dr Dagan Wells, from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Oxford University, who helped develop the new technique, said: “This is a very powerful method. We can look at all 24 different types of chromosomes and get a result in 24 hours, and do this at a cost a half to two-thirds that of current screening techniques.
“I think we’re getting to the point where there would be a strong economic argument to offer this to the majority of IVF patients.”
Current guidelines recommend that women under 40 in England and Wales who cannot get pregnant should qualify for three cycles of free IVF treatment on the NHS. Women aged 40 to 42 may be offered one cycle if certain criteria are met.
The baby boy born in Pennsylvania a month ago is the first “proof of concept” that the NGS technique works. IVF remains a highly inefficient process, with less than a third of chosen embryos implanting in the womb and generating a pregnancy.