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Feinstein Institutes’ Researcher Shares Concerns About Embryo Screening

·2 min read

Dr. Todd Lencz, and others in the Ethics Committee of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics, publish concerns about polygenic embryo screening in The Lancet Psychiatry

MANHASSET, N.Y., August 02, 2022--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Genetic testing has been part of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process for three decades and allows parents to screen embryos for illnesses. Yet, a new technique – polygenic embryo screening (PES) – has some scientists concerned. Todd Lencz, PhD, professor in the Institute of Behavioral Science at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, and 17 others from the Ethics Committee of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics (ISPG), today expressed concern in The Lancet Psychiatry about PES services for psychiatric conditions for both scientific and ethical reasons.

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Todd Lencz, PhD, professor in the Feinstein Institutes’ Institute of Behavioral Science, co-authors concerns about embryo screening. (Credit: The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research)

Reproductive geneticists have been able to identify rare, serious genetic disorders like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis prior to implantation of embryos in women undergoing IVF. But there is little existing research or ethical discussion concerning its risks and benefits of PES, even though it is already commercially available. In PES, each embryo derived from a cycle of IVF is densely genotyped, using DNA microarrays or sequencing, and the genotype data are used to generate polygenic risk scores (PRSs) to estimate the risk of a disease or the potential phenotypic value of a quantitative trait for each embryo. A prospective parent can then select which embryo(s) to implant on the basis of these PRSs.

"The human genome holds great promise to identify risk factors for complex and serious diseases, but without more research into polygenic embryo screening, it is unlikely that medical providers and the general public will have sufficient understanding to evaluate its pros and cons," said Dr. Lencz, who is first author of the paper.

"The potential implications of polygenic embryo screening are far-reaching, and worthy of much wider public debate," added co-author Lea K. Davis, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Genetic Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a member of the ISPG Board of Directors.

The ISPG’s goal with The Lancet Psychiatry article is to spur national and international discussion among clinicians, researchers, research participants, policy makers, ethicists and patients, and for more research to be conducted to examine the scientific and statistical basis of PES. They also urge caution on the use of PES in mental health disorders.

Dr. Lencz was awarded a $2.9 million grant in 2021 from the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to study the accuracy and the ethics of PES.

About the Feinstein Institutes

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the home of the research institutes of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider and private employer in New York State. Encompassing 50 research labs, 3,000 clinical research studies and 5,000 researchers and staff, the Feinstein Institutes raises the standard of medical innovation through its five institutes of behavioral science, bioelectronic medicine, cancer, health system science, and molecular medicine. We make breakthroughs in genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and are the global scientific leader in bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we produce knowledge to cure disease, visit http://feinstein.northwell.edu and follow us on LinkedIn.

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Matthew Libassi