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Biotech Science

Baby To Be Born Without the Gene For Breast Cancer 259

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
manoftin writes to tell us that next week a baby will be born without the gene for breast cancer, according to the BBC. "But he said that, in this case, not carrying the BRCA1 gene would not guarantee any daughter born to the couple would be unaffected by breast cancer because there are other genetic and environmental causes. Dr Alan Thornhill, scientific director of the London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre, said: 'While the technology and approach used in this case is fairly routine, it is the first time in the UK that a family has successfully eliminated a mutant breast cancer gene for their child. It is a victory for both the parents and the HFEA that licensed this treatment.'"
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Baby To Be Born Without the Gene For Breast Cancer

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  • Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alain94040 (785132) * on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:39PM (#26179245) Homepage

    For once, I'll recommend to RTFA first before commenting. It's a tough choice.

    On one hand, it's great that a family with such a tough hereditary problem can know that their kids and grand-kids won't be affected. On the other hand, I'm just so scared of the consequences: we are playing with nature and past experience shows that we usually don't fully understand the long-term consequences of our actions. We usually regret such experiments.

    But who am I to tell this family to go ahead and accept brest cancer? Can you look them in the eye and say "choose cancer"?

    --
    fairsoftware.net [fairsoftware.net] -- Software Bill Of Rights: transparency, equal rights and revenue sharing

  • by z-j-y (1056250) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:41PM (#26179273)

    (is it a boy or a girl?)

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdipisReks (770738) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:47PM (#26179337)

    On the other hand, I'm just so scared of the consequences: we are playing with nature and past experience shows that we usually don't fully understand the long-term consequences of our actions. We usually regret such experiments.

    nature played with us first, it's only fair that we reciprocate.

  • by theaveng (1243528) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:49PM (#26179377)

    The first step is taken on the road to GATTACA.*

    *
    *A movie about children being screened for superior genes - and also the children who become "rejects" in society because they were naturally born with inferior genes. If you haven't seen this movie, I highly recommend it. A great science story.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hungus (585181) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:50PM (#26179393) Journal

    Best advice from the article: "In addition, we must not forget the embryos which were discarded because they did carry the gene."

    now the part that will unfortunately get me modded flamebait:
    The easiest way to make certain someone never gets a disease is to kill them before the get it. There are plenty of children needing adoption for this entire scenario to have been avoided

  • by hawkeye_82 (845771) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:53PM (#26179429) Journal

    Is it possible for a gene to map to more than just one function?
    If so, now that they've eliminated this gene, isn't it possible that they might have eliminated more than just breast cancer?

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rayban (13436) * on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:00PM (#26179493) Homepage

    But nature has a lot longer than us to retaliate. It's like that creepy guy in the office you pissed off a few years ago - he's just waiting for the right time to get you back.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AuMatar (183847) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:04PM (#26179545)

    Plenty of children, but not plenty of infants. There's a lack of babies, if you want to adopt and take less than a few years you're limited to grown children. Many of them have emotional or physical handicaps and severe mental issues. Anyone who adopts one gets high praise from me, but I don't fault anyone who doesn't have the courage to do so. And most people want a baby that they can raise from birth, not someone already halfway grown.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:07PM (#26179577) Homepage

    All that happened was screening. They didn't screw with nature, they just took a peek to see whether the embryo had the gene or not.

    That's all they did in GATTACA too. Screen embryos for (un)desirable genetic traits, and pick which one to implant. That's exactly what they did here.

  • Re:No proof (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:09PM (#26179601)

    It's bloody SCREENING. They're not putting together genes for fuck's sake! And as for "no proof" thing, it's all about odds, i.e. going from "very likely to get cancer" to "about as likely as the general population".

    God, bored people can be so full of shit, can't take a piece of good news without having to wave the Impending Doom stick.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Golddess (1361003) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:15PM (#26179645)
    "Oh, so mother nature needs a favor? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys."

    To add a bit of my own to this, we require nature to survive, nature does not require us. That's not to say that we cannot play by the same rules in order to game the system so-to-speak. But if we should end up failing, nature will just keep on going.
  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:35PM (#26179811) Journal

    only the embryos are no more a human than that egg you had for breakfast is a chicken

    I disagree. Most of those eggs in the supermarket are unfertilized. A fertilized egg is an actual chicken. I just don't care about chickens as much as I do people. You can't point to any one spot in an embryo's development (except fertilization) and say "There. Now it is human." With that ambiguity, is it not better to err on the side of caution?

    with the end result being people having some incurable genetic illness.

    Are the majority of disabled individuals unhappy that they are alive? It's not our place to make that judgment for them.

    whats ethical about allowing someone to die a horrible death from cancer when you could have most likely been prevented?

    This isn't really prevention. Sure, the child that is born will have a reduced risk of breast cancer, but that is because they simply throw out the ones that don't meet their criteria. So instead of having a higher chance of dying from breast cancer, these rejects have a guarantee of dying because their chances are higher than the one that was selected.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:55PM (#26179963) Homepage

    They also gave addition features.

    I just re-watched the movie a few days ago, and they did not perform any genetic manipulation. They merely screened thousands and thousands of embryos and selected the "best" one. That's part of what's so fascinating about the movie, that the only sci-fi involved is the extremely fast and predictive genetic tests.

    Well, and manned missions to Titan, but you get my point.

    Whether it's people with genetic changes, or blue hair, or aliens. makes no difference. it's a story about discrimination.

    That's absolutely true. I'm just pointing out the same issues are present here. Not with this case directly. But as it becomes cheaper, easier, more reliable, and we can screen for more things. First it only made sense for cases where there was a guarantee of a serious inherited disease. Now it's used for a case where there's a very high risk of a serious disease associated with the gene. Next will be lower risk factors, or diseases with less serious consequences. Past that, we'll have to start making the same hard choices about how we want to proceed that the society of GATTACA had to make before it crystallized into the form in the movie.

    Don't get me wrong, there's no way I could say that this particular case is anything but an amazing advance of medicine and a good thing. But that's how tough ethical choices begin, isn't it.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Daniel (807289) on Friday December 19, 2008 @09:03PM (#26180031) Homepage

    You can't point to any one spot in an embryo's development (except fertilization) and say "There. Now it is human." With that ambiguity, is it not better to err on the side of caution?

    FTFA:

    Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) involves taking a cell from an embryo at the eight-cell stage of development, when it is around three-days old, and testing it.

    I can certainly point to this spot and say "There. It is not yet human." It is eight cells. What counts is a nervous system and perhaps some sort of brain function. We can surely agree on some sort of "fuzzy" criteria that say "if it looks like it could feel pain or might be self-aware, don't kill it." I think this stage is safely below any such possible criteria.

    I understand wanting to protect life, but saying that even the potential for life must be protected can be taken to absurd extremes -- as religious proscription of contraceptive measures has shown -- and is really just absurd in itself.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Friday December 19, 2008 @09:30PM (#26180245) Journal

    What counts is a nervous system and perhaps some sort of brain function

    So 5 minutes before we could identify brain function, it isn't alive? The boundary is just too fuzzy. An embryo hasn't developed a great deal compared to where it was a hour beforehand.

    I understand wanting to protect life, but saying that even the potential for life must be protected can be taken to absurd extremes -- as religious proscription of contraceptive measures has shown -- and is really just absurd in itself.

    I agree, potential for life != life. That's why I don't care one way or the other about preventive contraception. But I am not of the opinion that a fertilized egg is merely "potential life".
    I feel that conception is a good point because it is the single most defining instant of a human's development. The eggs and sperm won't grow into an adult human on their own, no matter how much nutrients you give them. An embryo will.

  • Eugenics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mgrivich (1015787) on Friday December 19, 2008 @09:48PM (#26180391)
    We have a word for this, and the word is eugenics. How long until the threshold for undesirability is softened to a heart condition, or baldness? How long until the decisions are politically or religiously motivated? Killing the undesirables so that the "proper" children may thrive is a lesson we should not have to learn again. Yes, Godwin, but here the analogy is apt.
  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Conception (212279) on Friday December 19, 2008 @10:31PM (#26180685)

    GATTACA always bothered me since you don't see Vincent's success, only that he was lucky enough to trick the system. Despite the movie's message, in the end he wasn't fit enough to go, his heart wasn't strong enough as shown in the treadmill scene, and his eyesight was a serious liability. I always had to wonder at the end of the movie when he's going into space if his heart gave out in the second month, or he lost a contact or some other thing that they tried to screen for that cost the success of the mission and potentially the lives of the other members of the crew.

    I know the message the movie was giving, and in terms of his relationship with what's her face it seemed to be more poignant, but I couldn't help think that his actions were all hubris and were a huge risk to the mission and its crew.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by winwar (114053) on Friday December 19, 2008 @11:29PM (#26181047)

    "GATTACA always bothered me since you don't see Vincent's success, only that he was lucky enough to trick the system."

    So he was good enough to circumvent a system designed to prevent people like him from acheiving success and you say he wasn't successful? Just what exactly is your definition of success?!?

    "I know the message the movie was giving, .... but I couldn't help think that his actions were all hubris and were a huge risk to the mission and its crew."

    And what happened if one of those "qualified" people tripped and broke their neck, or made a bad decision that led to mission failure, or a faulty part on the craft killed them all, etc.

    One of the points of the movie that genes are not the sum of the person.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @12:22AM (#26181341) Journal

    So 5 minutes before we could identify brain function, it isn't alive?

    This is beside the point. The issue isn't 5 minutes before, it's when there are only 8 cells. Just because the line might be fuzzy, doesn't mean that there is uncertainty at 8 cells. If you are that worried about getting it wrong, that argument works just as well before conception.

    I feel that conception is a good point because it is the single most defining instant of a human's development.

    What does "most defining instant" mean?

    The eggs and sperm won't grow into an adult human on their own, no matter how much nutrients you give them. An embryo will.

    No it won't - you need to attach it to a womb, and even then success is far from certain. The embryos in question had not yet been implanted.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @12:31AM (#26181405) Journal

    These are the characteristics we use to define a single-celled bacteria as life. So it seems that at conception we can safely assume that the zygote is life.

    Of course it is living - that doesn't mean that it's unethical to end that life. Also note that sperm and egg cells are living.

    So at least one of these must be true:
    * It's wrong to kill bacteria.
    * Millions of living creatures are murdered when someone has sex.
    * Sperm and egg cells aren't alive, and unliving things magically turn into living things when they combine.

    I'd be interested to know if you believe any of those three things.

    This is the characteristic we currently use to define life as a separate entity, ie not the mother, and not the father.

    So twins are the same entity? That's a poor definition. The argument stands for sperm and egg cells, too.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nazlfrag (1035012) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @12:55AM (#26181549) Journal

    It's living, growing human cells. In my books that counts as a human life. I disagree with the entire notion of potential life, it's either alive or it's dead.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lachrymite (115440) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @01:22AM (#26181717)

    So he was good enough to circumvent a system designed to prevent people like him from acheiving success and you say he wasn't successful? Just what exactly is your definition of success?!?

    Being able to fake your way through a qualifications system does not mean you are going to be able to fake your way through the end job. If I forge a law school diploma it doesn't mean I'm suddenly magically qualified to be a lawyer.

    One of the points of the movie that genes are not the sum of the person.

    Except that more and more we are learning that they are. A good movie does not refute science just because it's entertaining.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_humeister (922869) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @01:27AM (#26181739)

    So is the Hela cell-line that's used in most laboratories. Would you consider that human?

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Saturday December 20, 2008 @02:24AM (#26182025) Journal

    No it won't. First, the embryo needs to be free of genetic defects.

    I assume you mean "free of extensive genetic defects". If they truly were free of defects, we wouldn't have hereditary genetic diseases.
    I would still count it as human, although I would not be surprised if it miscarries very soon (maybe even before the first cell division?). Unfortunate, but it happens. The important thing is that it died because there was nothing we could do to prevent it, not because someone decided to kill it.

    Second, the embryo needs to be implanted.

    Is malaria part of the body, or a separate organism? Tapeworm? Just because an organism is dependent on a host for survival, that doesn't make the two a single entity. Same with embryos. Totally dependent on the mother's body for nourishment and protection, but it is not a part of the mother.

    The point of conception as a defining moment of human-hood is not the best approach, unless you're willing to define any egg+diploid human DNA = human.

    By Jove, I think he's got it!

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @06:41AM (#26182797)

    So he was good enough to circumvent a system designed to prevent people like him from acheiving success and you say he wasn't successful? Just what exactly is your definition of success?!?

    Pulling a fast one on the system's selection process so that it selects a clearly inferior and inapt candidate for the task is not by any way a definition of success. The character succeeded in stealing the identity of a qualifiable candidate and evading the selection process. Yet, the story doesn't approach the part that really matters: the part where the character does indeed needs to put his genetic traits to the test. Sure, myopia is no biggie but cardiac problems that result in a life expectancy of 30.2 years sure can cause a bit of trouble in long space travels.

    And what happened if one of those "qualified" people tripped and broke their neck, or made a bad decision that led to mission failure, or a faulty part on the craft killed them all, etc.

    One of the points of the movie that genes are not the sum of the person.

    That isn't the point. The point is that the genetic testing was put in place in order to eliminate needless problems that could be caused by health problems arising from genetic defects. Indeed a "qualified" astronaut could break his/her neck but so does the unqualified astronaut, which means it's irrelevant. The point is that the unqualified astronaut suffers from a genetic-based cardiac defect. What if his heart craps up on him in the middle of the trip to Titan? What else then? Should the mission be forced to nurse a corpse through the entire mission and be chronically and maybe critically sub-manned through the entire mission? That problem, which is a massive problem, could be avoided. By genetic testing. That the character violated through identity theft. That's the point.

  • Re:Tough choice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ghostlibrary (450718) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @10:13AM (#26183487) Homepage Journal

    "GATTACA always bothered me since you don't see Vincent's success, only that he was lucky enough to trick the system."

    Actually, you see his success constantly-- he scores highest in the various orbital/piloting tests, impresses them with his work ethic, and so on. It's only the purely physical criteria that was a problem-- and note he does perform the physical tests at a high level (even though he's a wreck afterwards). He's even able to outswim his more 'perfect' brother-- and save his brother from drowning in the process.

    So put it this way. Your ship is in trouble. Do you want a pilot who has never had to struggle a minute in his life nor faced a real challenge, or do you want a pilot with the tenacity to achieve even with the deck stacked against him?

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