China has certainly come a long way in the field of genetics and stem-cell research, as highlighted by accomplishments like reprogramming cells to create mice and housing the world’s largest stem-cell research facility in Beijing.
The most recent breakthrough concerns a Shanghai woman who was able to give birth to a healthy girl, despite harboring an inherited genetic disease, thanks to a new screening method that selects and eliminates aberrant gene embryos from test tube babies.
The woman, surnamed Wang, is now the proud mother of a child completely without chromosome irregularities:
According to Sun Xiaoxi, deputy director of the reproduction center at the Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital Affiliated to Fudan University, the 32-year-old woman, surnamed Wang, from the neighboring Zhejiang province, delivered the baby in September after suffering repeated miscarriages over the past five years due to chromosome abnormalities.
Finally, the couple made use of a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) that enables people with a specific inherited disease to avoid passing it on to their progeny.
Seven embryos were created through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Doctors checked the genes of these and filtered out those at risk of passing on the woman’s chromosome abnormality.
Next, a genetically healthy embryo was selected and placed in Wang’s womb. It is the first baby born in the city using such technique.
Currently, the center where Wang underwent the embryo screening is the only facility in Shanghai licensed to utilize the chromosome filtering technology.
A heartwarming story to be sure, but also one that raises many questions regarding the “correct” use of this screening technique, for similar to every technology involving embryos and human life, the gene filtering method is steeped in slippery-slope controversy.
While it may be a blessing for people with inherited genetic disorders to be able to conceive perfectly normal, genetically disease-free children for a minimum cost of only 30,000RMB ($4,700) what of families and individuals who wish to alter the sex of their children?
Luckily, Chinese policy prohibits such sex-determination, but the indeterminate number of test tube babies suggests that this technology can and is being used for illicit means. And even when its utilization is legitimate, as past instances of “shallow” technology-use in China have demonstrated – stem-cell therapy to rejuvenate granny’s sagging face rather than to slow her husband’s raging Parkinson’s disease–science has not always benefited those most in need.
Aside from the practice of gene screening, China’s rapidly evolving test-tube baby technology as a whole has ignited a firestorm of pros and cons.
While the country’s one million infertile men (plus half of all Chinese men over 40 who can’t get wood in the first place), along with the untold number of barren women view the developing test-tube baby technology as a real-life miracle version of that baby-delivering stork, there are still plenty of unknowns and possibilities for abuse with this brave new technology.
As Spiderman told us in repeated sequels, with great power comes great responsibility, and we think that certainly applies here.