The age of the superbaby

by MIKE TAIT, Metro

The era of perfect 'superbabies' moved a step closer after scientists found a way to carry out hundreds of tests before an IVF embryo is even implanted in the womb.

A technique to multiply a single cell into dozens more would allow for a whole range of inherited defects to be checked.

At present, few tests are carried out before implantation because only two cells can be taken from an embryo without damaging it.

With so few cells to work from, testing is difficult and prone to errors.

Although 1 million children have been born using IVF, only about 1,000 have ever been screened for defects.

Parents are often advised to take prenatal tests much later in the pregnancy.

As well as allowing for hundreds of tests, multiplied cells could also be kept and used to treat diseases that an IVF baby might develop later in life, such as Parkinson's.

The breakthrough was made on mice cells by a team from Leeds University, which is now modifying the procedure for use with humans.

They were able to grow hundreds of trophectoderm stem cells - which go on to form a placenta - from single cells in mouse embryos.

They used techniques already established for growing cells - except no-one had thought to use them on early embryonic cells.

"We were surprised we could do this so efficiently," researcher Alan Handyside told New Scientist magazine.

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