New Tech Allows Parents Genetic ‘Preview’ Before Conception

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By Gillian Mohney | ABC News

(ABC) – New technology claims to give parents a genetic “preview” of their child before they’re even conceived.

The Gene Peeks company caters to women looking to use sperm banks to have a child. The company sequences the genetic code for potential sperm donors and woman looking to get pregnant.

The company then uses algorithm to examine how the woman’s genetic DNA will interact with her potential sperm donors. As a result, the company claims the user can avoid using sperm donors, who might have higher chances for genetic complications.

According to the company’s website, they will analyze sperm donors for at least 500 genetic conditions and more than 8,000,000 genetic mutations. At the end of the analysis the user will get a “personalized catalog” of donors.

Two fertility clinics in the U.S. will start to use the technology later this month. Requests for comment from Gene Peeks were declined as the company prepares to officially launch.

On its website, Gene Peeks stresses that the technology will be used to help women make informed decisions about donors and to avoid partners who carry genes that could lead to potentially dangerous conditions or complications in the infant.

However, the ability to have a genetic preview of an infant before conception is worrying for some experts.

Dr. Jeffrey Khan, professor of Bioethics and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, said people interested in the technology should be careful to understand that the technology is based on probabilities.

“They run the algorithm and get a sense of a 100 virtual children that the combo might produce,” said Khan, who has not worked with technology. “It’s not like going to the showroom and seeing on the display floor [the thing] you’re purchasing and … knowing when you get home that it’s going to show up.

Khan additionally said that genetic counselors have done similar work for years, but usually in those cases the couple had a history of genetic disorders. Additionally, his main concern is that for many people having a detailed sheet of what “might happen” can be confusing.

“The probability will be attached to various trait, it’s really hard to make sense of that,” said Khan. “What’s the difference between a 10 or 13 percent chance of this?”

Khan said this new technology appeared to be an extension of what was already happening in sperm banks for years and that this appeared to be a more modern version of previous sperm bank “shopping.”

“You’re shopping for traits. What they’re doing is giving a more refined and complex sense of what the combinations might be,” said Khan.

Copyright 2014 by ABC News. All rights reserved.

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