The future may be bright, dark, dystopian, promising, or utopian. We may also move into a world where there is no disease and people live long lives. Regardless of viewpoint, a new way to shape that future is here now. That’s because we now have much more control over the genetics of our offspring than ever before.
The markers are read and analyzed and a report given to the parents. The Genetic Prediction test is just one report which the parents can avail to check for the health of the embryo.
Nathan Treff wants to help people who are going through in vitro fertilization (IVF) avoid passing on type 1 diabetes, along with other complex diseases. He co-founded Genomic Prediction with Stephen Hsu and Laurent Tellier. They have diverse backgrounds required for the task at hand. Treff is an IVF specialist and a Rutgers University Associate Professor. Hsu, a physicist, is also the Michigan State University vice president for research. Tellier, CEO of Genomic Prediction, is a Danish bioinformatician. Tellier and Hsu have previously worked in China on the bold idea of a genome sequencing program of mathematical geniuses with the aim of understanding the genetic basis behind IQ.
Big Data on DNA
Research into diseases have shown that a person’s DNA can predict some of these. Today, the genetic data is available from large population studies. With the use of big data, data mining and machine learning, statistical models called predictors read the DNA and other health information, and improve upon prior predictions. Machine learning allows the research to iterate and more accurately spot genetic patterns showing disease risk. The same data and techniques results also predict the weight, skin tone and IQ of an IVF embryo.
Currently, clinics already test embryo DNAs prior to implantation. The IVF clinics test for single gene defects for rare diseases including cystic fibrosis. The aim of Genetic Prediction is to find gene groups or correlations between genes which lead to complex diseases like type 1 diabetes. Coincidentally, these tests would also show the most probable make up if and when the embryo reaches adulthood.
Tellier admits that he got his inspiration from the movie “Gattaca” where parents could choose what their babies would become. This scenario is almost possible with Genetic Prediction’s current technology. The company will offer IVF doctors and parents reports identifying these genome markers or “outliers”. These are embryos with statistical scores that have a proven predisposition for disorders. Besides diabetes and cystic fibrosis, this method can predict other diseases including dwarfism, late-life osteoporosis, and schizophrenia. The results will be predictive in nature based on a large population of data, but due to the nature of the procedure, there is no way to test the hypothesis unless the embryo goes to full term and reaches adulthood.
IVF procedures allow for these conditions, because of pre-implantation testing. The markers are read and analyzed and a report given to the parents. The Genetic Prediction test is just one report which the parents can avail to check for the health of the embryo.
Fertility doctors in the United States consider testing embryos for disease risks as ethically acceptable. However, the Genetic Prediction DNA scoring models will allow parents to choose other traits including IQ and height, among other things. There is no separating these predictors because the predictor algorithm uses the same complex genetic influencers.