“The transmission of genetic diseases such as beta-thalassemia can be avoided without the need to resort to the genetic modification of embryos”
Dr. Rita Vassena explains to us the legal alternatives in Spain, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis or the carrying out of a diagnostic testThe magazine Protein & Cell has recently published a scientific study that explains the first attempt at genetic modification of embryos aimed at preventing the transmission of certain genetic diseases. The study, conducted in China, set out to eliminate the gene responsible for the transmission of beta-thalassemia. We talked to Dr. Rita Vassena, Eugin’s scientific director, who explains why it is not necessary to resort to genetically modified embryos, a technique that is not permitted in Spain.
Genetic modification of embryos to avoid transmitting an inherited disease such as beta-thalassemia. Will it come to Spain?
Absolutely not: the research done in China is a practice that could not be performed either in Spain or in Europe. Apart from not being allowed by law – the Spanish legislation is very clear as to what can be done in embryo research, and genetic modification does not appear as possible – indeed, it was not necessary, since the transmission of beta-thalassemia can be prevented by other means.
Such as, for example?
There is a test to detect genetic diseases by means of a blood test undergone by both biological parents, or by the father and the donor in the case of treatments with donor eggs, which enables us to detect the presence of serious genetic diseases such as beta thalassemia, cystic fibrosis and Fragile X syndrome.
Is the test is carried out by the two partners?
In the case of treatments in which donor eggs are used, it only makes sense for the father to do it since this same test in Eugin is performed on all egg donors. In fact, Eugin was the first fertility clinic in Europe to apply an analysis of this kind to its entire donor bank.
If the gene causing the disease in the parents is detected, how is the risk of transmission minimized without resorting to genetic modification of embryos?
We are very aware of possible cases of carrier couples of these kinds of genes. If both partners are carriers, there is the option of resorting to preimplantation genetic diagnosis, a technique that is perfectly legal in Spain, and with excellent results, which allows the selection of embryos and significantly decreases the risk of transmitting genetic diseases to future babies.
And in the case of a treatment with egg donation?
The so called genetic matching is done, in other words, the genetic information of the father is compared to the donor’s and a match is made that does not involve the risk of transmitting genetic diseases.
As part of Eugin’s clear commitment to research, what kind of scientific work is carried out on embryos?
Eugin has opened a line of research with the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, which is, in fact, focused on the study of embryos in order to improve the results of fertility treatments. Embryos that are observed in this kind of research come from parents who have undergone treatment beforehand and have decided -freely and in accordance with the law- to donate them to research.