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Embryo screening for hereditary cancer underway

16th May 2006

A pregnant woman has used genetic screening to ensure that her baby will not develop a form of hereditary cancer.

The unnamed woman has used the process to prevent her unborn child from retinoblastoma, the genetic form of eye cancer from which she suffers.

The treatment was carried out by specialists at University College Hospital (UCH) in London and involves utilising laser technology to isolate cells for testing, in a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

The success means that the child will not have the cancer and will not be able to pass the cancer on to future generations.

Paul Serhal, fertility specialist at UCH, has described the outcome as "fantastic" and a "breakthrough" in the treatment of hereditary cancer.

"That is the power of this technology. Obviously, it has hailed a new era so all families with a history of genetic cancer can avail themselves of this treatment," said Mr Serhal.

Parents who carry the genetic mutation which causes retinoblastoma have a 50 per cent chance of passing the gene on to their child and tumours develop in 90 per cent of those who inherit it.

Continuing breakthroughs in the treatment of child cancer have resulted in improvement in the adult survival rate, from 100 adult survivors aged over 30 1971, compared with 7,000 (over 45 per cent) in 2000.