louise brown.jpgThe 1st test tube baby, Louise Brown, will turn 30 in a week, on July 25. The July 17 issue of Nature takes a look at the next 30 years of IVF:

Already, modern societies are entering an era of personalized genetics….
True… no embryo will have the perfect genetic future. But these techniques could allow parents to create a top-5 wish-list of the characteristics they most want for their child – avoiding, for example, the Parkinson’s disease that plagues the family – and choose the embryo most likely to meet those criteria.
Or the parents may focus on non-health-related aspects such as intelligence and ambition….

The magazine asked several researchers to speculate on the next 3 decades.
Davor Solter, developmental biologist at the Institute of Medical Biology, Singapore

Next I expect… sperm and eggs will be successfully derived from induced pluripotent stem cells….
It means every person regardless of age will be able to have children: newborn children could have children and 100-year olds could have children. It could easily happen in the next 30 years….
Another thing I predict for this brave new world is the use of artificial placentas….

Alan Trounson, director of the CA Institute for Regenerative Medicine :

I think it will be possible… to extend the fertile period for women….There will be concerns raised over whether the fertile period should be extended beyond its natural point. I think people should be given the choice….

We might see… “genetic cassettes” that can be inserted at the embryonic stage to correct particular diseases, such as Huntington’s. These might be inducible cassettes that can correct for an abnormality that occurs late in life and switched on at that time….

Susannah Baruch, director of reproductive genetics at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, DC:

There’s speculation that people will have designer babies, but I don’t think the data are there to support that. The spectre of people wanting the perfect child is based on a false premise. No single gene predicts blondness or thinness or height or whatever the ‘perfect baby’ looks like….
More likely is that you’ll have a set of embryos and you’ll know every single thing about every gene in every embryo. For example, 1 embryo will have 3 genes associated with tallness, 2 for weakness, 3 for poor vision and some for disease; and the 2nd embryo will have some other set…..
I think you’ll end up with a lot of information available to parents….

Scott Gelfand, director of the Ethics Center at OK State University:

There is some research aiming to increase embryo survival and the likelihood that IVF will work. There are also people who are working on the other end – at the moment babies can only survive from around 22 weeks, but in future fetuses this could be extended to those that are 12 weeks. Someone could join these two advances together and we could have complete ectogenesis [in which the fetus develops outside the body in an artificial uterus]. I find it interesting and scary.
Those who work on artificial-womb technology aren’t talking openly about it anymore. My guess is it’s a potential lightning rod in our culture.There are some very interesting moral and ethical implications associated with artificial wombs….
If an artificial womb were developed, the government could pass a law that requires people who have a termination of pregnancy to put the fetus into one of these wombs. That’s the fear of many pro-choice theorists. There are around 1 million abortions per year in the United States and there would have to be labs throughout the country, but if we put all these in artificial wombs and then put them up for adoption we would have one million more babies. It would be a nightmare. When I talk to some anti-abortionists about that, they really shudder.

Miodrag Stojkovic, stem-cell biologist at the Prince Philip Centre of Investigation, Spain:

Will we see a cloned baby? It could happen any day because of a lack of regulation [in some countries]. To my knowledge people are already trying to do reproductive cloning. Technically it is possible….
The field is developing so fast that some people can’t follow what happens and are scared….
Humans are getting more and more lazy when it comes to reproduction. Male fertility is declining and parents are deciding to have their first child at 40….
There is plenty we don’t understand about embryo-mother communication. I don’t think 30 years will be enough to answer those questions.

Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility, NY:

I see the technology going towards possible eradication of infertility altogether. With nuclear-transfer technology or cell modification, I think we’ll be able to generate sperm and eggs for anybody.
I think we’ve potentially reached the limit of biology in terms of the female’s eggs, so artificial gametes might overcome that….

Regine Sitruk-Ware, reproductive endocrinologist and executive director of research and development at the Population Council, NY:

If we look at centres in reproductive sciences funded by the NIH, there are more than 20 on IVF and only a handful on contraceptive research. It’s more politically correct to help people get babies than the reverse, but it’s important to have a balance.
Many current contraceptive methods have side effects or they’re not effective. We can do better. We’re hoping it might be possible for men and women to alternate taking contraceptives and that we can develop non-hormonal methods with fewer side effects that are very specific in targeting an enzyme or protein in the reproductive process, such as one that stops the ovum from maturing, or sperm from entering the egg.

[HT: reader Earl G.; photo of Brown courtesy of The Daily Mail

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