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Embryo diagnosis has research spin-off

Wednesday December 17th, 2008

Test-tube procedures to prevent the birth of children with genetic disorders could provide a source of stem cells for research, scientists said today.

A new project has looked at pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, the procedure which allows families to have embryos tested before being implanted in the womb.

Under the procedure embryos are tested for genetic diseases and discarded if found to carry them. Now researchers have been studying these embryos.

Emma Stephenson of King's College London, UK, and colleagues examined cells taken from embryos diagnosed as disease-carrying in genetic tests performed during In vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

The team found that these cells are a "powerful tool" for modelling the progression of genetic diseases. They also believe that the cells could provide "an ideal system for investigating the toxicity and efficacy of new drugs".

The cells are placed in a special culture conditions to generate stem cell lines. In BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the experts report on recent successes in using human embryonic stem cell lines.

Ms Stephenson explained that the cells had tested positive for clinically relevant genetic diseases such as Huntington's disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and the blood disorder thalassaemia.

"These stem cells are a valuable source material for disease modelling," she said.

"By growing different types of cells from these stem cells, e.g. nerve or cardiac or muscle cells, we hope to improve our understanding of the processes and progress of genetic diseases, and in so doing, aid discovery of drugs which could ameliorate or slow the appearance of symptoms."

Ms Stephenson added that the cells may even replace animal tests for studying early development and degenerative diseases, as results from animal studies do not always reflect results in humans.

Stephenson, E., Mason, C. and Braude, P. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis as a source of human embryonic stem cells for disease research and drug discovery. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, published December 17, 2008.

Tags: Genetics | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Women’s Health & Gynaecology | UK News

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