Alzheimer's gene screened out from newborn.
February 27, 2002 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Alzheimer's gene screened out from newborn. Doctors successfully made sure that the mother's Alzheimer's gene wasn't inherited by her baby. This is big news for prospective parents with hereditary diseases.
posted by costas (16 comments total)
Some also questioned the wisdom of helping establish a pregnancy in a woman whose mind would be so riddled by disease that she would be unable to recognize her own daughter by the end of the decade.

So, if it's cruel to give birth to children when they have a 50/50 chance of getting a gene that virtually guarantees senility by age 40, is it not cruel for someone to knowingly give birth to a child whose guaranteed to have a senile mother while the child is still very young? The rebuttal that one shouldn't judge who should give birth is disingenuous considering they decided it was legitimate to decide who was going to be born.

One might have the choice legally, but that doesn't free one from the moral obligations of one's choice.
posted by meep at 7:04 AM on February 27, 2002

Until radically new technology is invented, this kind of genetic selection will remain limited to the wealthy elite and to those who are research subjects. I'll start to worry when designer babies can be made cheaply via some minor modification of the "old-fashioned" way (like by an injection or pill taken before conception). I am sure somebody is already looking into this but the problems that would need to be overcome for this to be convenient are stupefyingly complex and probably will never be solved.
posted by plaino at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2002

No, meep, giving birth and being born are not equivalent.
It's not disingenuous, at all.

Having a mother who will be functionally gone is far better than being doomed to early insanity, and, given the proper support network, the child will not suffer.

The deciding factor is whether the mother could afford the procedure to do this- if she could, she probably can provide for the child to be cared for, once she is no longer functional. Hence, the child is healthy, and probably not to be foisted onto the state or unsuspecting relatives as a penniless ward.

I see no moral wrong in this.
posted by dissent at 7:21 AM on February 27, 2002

I don't see this as morally wrong either; e.g. there may be a father that would love to have a healthy baby from his sick but beloved wife. Most importantly, it paves the way --morally if not scientifically-- for other hereditary diseases to be rooted out of the genepool. Some forms of mental illness and sickle-cell anemia come to mind.
posted by costas at 7:40 AM on February 27, 2002

Some also questioned the wisdom of helping establish a pregnancy in a woman whose mind would be so riddled by disease that she would be unable to recognize her own daughter by the end of the decade.

Presumably the woman also had the choice of just conceiving 'naturally'/'conventionally' (however you want to put it), thus giving the child not only a prematurely senile mother but a 50% chance of being prematurely senile herself. Therefore 'helping establish the pregnancy' was certainly a wiser choice than not 'helping'.
posted by different at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2002

I hope they'll follow the health of this child to see how the rest of the body adapts to the removal of that gene. What I mean is, we need to see if there are unexpected effects in addition to the prevention of Alzheimer's.
posted by holycola at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2002

My grandfather has Alzheimer's, and it's absolute hell. It is hereditary in my family, and it skips a generation. Which means that I have a chance of getting it, also. I would give anything to stop Alzheimer's altogether.
posted by Kevin Sanders at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2002

Speaking of Alzheimer's, there was news of a new drug to help slow the onset of the disease.
posted by costas at 8:34 AM on February 27, 2002

holycola: the gene wasn't removed. they screened the eggs to prevent the fertilization of one with the gene. its the same ultimate effect as if this egg got fertilized by chance.
posted by srw12 at 8:48 AM on February 27, 2002

My family has been carrying around a weird variant of the gene for Von-Hippel Lindau syndrome, a condition that causes tumor-like growths in the brain and other places.

There's a 50/50 chance of having the gene, and a test was recently developed that let all of us find out if we're carriers. My dad has it but his kids do not, relieving me of the horrible prospect of testing my kids to see if I passed it on.

I imagine that this family's overwhelming emotion at this point is joy that they can eradicate this gene instead of passing it on to any more generations. It's an amazing opportunity.
posted by rcade at 8:51 AM on February 27, 2002

It's true that the choice isn't between being born to healthy parents but going senile in one's 40s and being born healthy to a mother who will go senile in her 40s -- the choices in this case are affected mother giving birth to no children, giving birth to child with 50/50 chance of being affected, and giving birth to a child preselected to not have affecting gene.

I understand the desire to have biological children, even with the motive that the child will be a comfort to the relatives who will see the mother disintegrate mentally and physically. Perhaps this is the same motivation for those who conceive children in late age, when the chances are one parent will die before the child will grow up to adulthood (Men have done this often in history, but only lately have women been able to bear children post-menopause).

Still, there was a choice in there not to have children at all. Some people decide to have or not have children depending on how well they can care for them; people routinely berate those who give birth to children without a thought as to the children's own well-being. The mother in this case thought of the well-being of the child in making sure it didn't have the particular gene, but to think that the mother's own slide into senility won't be traumatic to the child =is= looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Adult children and spouses of Alzheimer's sufferers, even those whose slide into the disease is slow, have been profoundly affected.
posted by meep at 9:50 AM on February 27, 2002

the pre-selection by genes isn't what makes this news-worthy (as the wired article notes, the same lab has done this hundreds of times for other hereditary diseases, and it is a growing market). this is apparently the first time it was done to screen for this particular gene, which is unusual in that it is a disease that shows up fairly late in life (compared to diseases like tay-sachs or sickle-cell anemia that strike in early childhood).
posted by jimw at 10:16 AM on February 27, 2002

I suggest the film "Gattaca" for an interesting take on this subject. It raises the issue of the inevitable discrimination which would arise from a society divided between "natural" births and "selective" births.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:41 AM on February 27, 2002

This is basically just a fancy way to say that we now know how to breed humans in a beneficial manner. They didn't modify a gene, or alter or remove a gene, they just made sure that the sex chromosomes from the mother was the one without the alzheimer gene, as someone already mentioned.

I think it's a good thing. Why not do this, if it means your children won't die of terminal disease?

Ty, I've seen Gattaca (it's a pretty good film), and the issues raised are interesting, but I think the fact that parents (especially the middle class and wealthy American kind) are willing to shell out a lot of green to give their children what they think is the best life possible, I really see this whole gene-screening thing as inevitable, and impossible to stop.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2002

I really see this whole gene-screening thing as inevitable, and impossible to stop.

I think it could be beneficial as long as access to it was universal, like innoculations.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2002

meep - How is this different from children being born every day to people who have diseases or conditions like diabetes or cancer, or heart problems that make it very likely that they will die before the child reaches their teens? Except that in this case, the Mother has made sure that her child won't have the same overwhelming worries and fears that she had to endure.
posted by lucien at 3:23 PM on February 27, 2002

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