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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 @06:39PM (#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

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

      by EdipisReks (770738) on Friday December 19, 2008 @06:47PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Rayban (13436) *

        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.

        • You do remember this is /. you're posting on, right?! Half of us are "that creepy guy in the office". And the other half were "that creepy guy" until they got their revenge, and now we have comfortably retired to our parents basement.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Golddess (1361003)
        "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:4, Insightful)

      by Hungus (585181) on Friday December 19, 2008 @06:50PM (#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

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

        by AuMatar (183847) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:04PM (#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.

        • by aztektum (170569) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:14PM (#26179635)

          I want to adopt a 25/yr old w/ his own apartment and steady job.

        • by Hungus (585181)

          according to national adoption statistics 36% of all children up for adoption are under age 3

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

          by g2devi (898503) on Friday December 19, 2008 @08:52PM (#26180419)

          Actually, in Ancient Roman society, babies were never adopted...only teens. Why? Because when children reach their teens, you can know their character and if you want to trust them with carrying on your inheritance and your family name. With babies, you never know they'll turn up. In the nature versus nurture forming of character, you might provide good nurture but still turn out bad because of nature (aka genetics).

          • by AuMatar (183847)

            Ancient Roman society used adoption much differently- it was about picking one's heirs for property and titles. In modern society, it's about an alternative to having your own children and while they may inherit, it's not a key consideration.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by timeOday (582209)
              But there is something to his point. As a parent of 4 children, I've been very surprised the degree to which they each turn out differently and the results of parenting technique are not deterministic. Thus taking on an infant (whether your own or somebody else's) is a roll of the dice. One of my children has serious emotional problems and it is a heavy burden for the whole family, almost every hour of every day, and I grieve that his future will not be what anybody would hope for. But whether it would
          • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Interesting)

            by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday December 20, 2008 @12:43AM (#26181825) Journal

            I used to not believe in "Nature VS Nurture" until it happened in my family.

            I wasn't one to believe that it was strictly DNA that made us who we are, always believing that it was whether we were raised with love. Then I got to see living proof with my own eyes. Aunt Edna and Uncle Larry were 2 of the sweetest folks you'd ever meet. Kind, friendly, hard working country folks with a nice little farm outside of town. Now Edna(or Eddie as we all called her) was told the odds of her having kids was pretty much zero, so in the early 70's they adopted Rocky who was barely 6 months old. The boy hadn't been abused or neglected, and was healthy as can be. A few months later by some miracle Eddie gets pregnant and has Donald. Now these folks never made a single bit of difference in those kids, hell they wouldn't even let the family say anything about Rocky being adopted. As far as they were concerned they were both gifts from God and that was that.

            It didn't take us long to realize something was seriously wrong with Rocky. If you have ever heard the phrase "bad seed" it was all too true with him. Animal cruelty and torture, vicious behavior, you name it. Meanwhile his brother Donald was the nicest boy you ever want to meet. Finally at the age of 14 they got the court to unseal the records in the hopes of talking to one or both of the biological parents to see if there was a history of mental illness after he slaughtered the neighbor's cat. What they found in the record was the stuff of nightmares. It turned out Rocky was born in prison where he mother was doing a stretch because she tried to kill a john by slitting his throat over a money dispute. And the father...damn. The father was her pimp and got into a bar fight and when he lost he calmly went to his car, took out a hatchet out of the trunk, and went back in the bar where he proceeded to chop the guy all to hell, killing him of course.

            After trying everything they could they finally had to get a restraining order against Rocky when he turned 18. He has spent nearly his entire adult life in prison, and is currently serving life in Texas for a dope dealer robbery that went bad resulting in a death. Donald has never been arrested and lives a nice life with his wife and 2 kids. So until they change the rules to where an adoptive parent gets at least the medical and psych history of the birth parents I would be seriously afraid to adopt a child. Taking care of a child with an obvious physical disability is one thing, but if you got a child that had a family history of serious mental disorders you could be putting the lives of your entire family at risk. So does anybody know if they even warn adoptive parents about such things? Or do they just leave it like a ticking time bomb for the parents to find out about the hard way?

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

              by Tanktalus (794810) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @01:19AM (#26182003) Journal

              Conversely, DNA can't be everything. I have a set of identical-twin cousins who are excellent examples. Their mother left them when they were young (somewhere between 4 and 6, I don't remember too well as I wasn't that old, either), leaving their father (my dad's brother) to raise them (and get remarried and have a slew of kids with his new wife, too). Anyway, one turned out as a risk-taker and gay, the other is neither. Same household, even same genes. There's gotta be more to it than that. (Of course, I'll get modded down for pointing out that genes also can't be the end-all and be-all of determining sexuality, either, since these two ARE identical twins and still ended up not having the same sexuality. Anecdotes != data, but this is simply a counter-example that seems to me to disprove that theory.)

              Neither of the boys (well, they're over 18 now, so "men") are psychologically perfect (who is?), but they are definitely quite far apart in personality despite both same genes and same upbringing.

    • It's okay. Cancer of the mutant breast can be easily eradicated with mutant X-rays.

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

      by Darundal (891860) on Friday December 19, 2008 @06:52PM (#26179419) Journal
      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.
      • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Insightful)

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

        • by geekoid (135745)

          They also gave addition features. However that's not the bad part about GATTACA.
          It's a story about society, and what it became.
          Whether it's people with genetic changes, or blue hair, or aliens. makes no difference. it's a story about discrimination.

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

            by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:55PM (#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.

        • GATTACA is a movie, not real life. It is worth thinking about, sure, but it should not be taken as a gospel prediction of what must happen if certain actions are taken.

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Yeah, if that was my point, that'd be pretty ironic, since a major theme of the movie is the folly of determinism.

            But it's not. My point is that we do (or rather will) have to consider the same ethical questions the movie raises, and it doesn't require genetic manipulation.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Vellmont (569020)


              But it's not. My point is that we do (or rather will) have to consider the same ethical questions the movie raises, and it doesn't require genetic manipulation.

              Do you really believe genetic screening hasn't been going on for years? Amniocentesis and the ability to diagnose downs syndrome in a fetus has been around for 40 years. I don't know how long it's been a routine procedure, but I'd guess 20 years or more.

              The movie is still a movie, and I really don't think the "issues" that it raises are going to be

        • by quenda (644621)

          That's all they did in GATTACA too.

          We need a new acronym: WTFM (or RTFB?)

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

          by Conception (212279) on Friday December 19, 2008 @09:31PM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by winwar (114053)

            "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" peo

            • IIRC Vincent HAD a number of physical problems stemming from his genes. I think the grandparent's problem isn't that he had bad genes, it was his bad heart and crappy eyesight. Genes aren't the sum of a person but having ones that work certainly helps.
            • Re:Tough choice (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Lachrymite (115440) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @12:22AM (#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.

              • I think it's more along the lines that even if you know about someone's genes you still can't predict their life. It's akin to predicting the future which we don't expect to be able to do.

                To put it another way: if you don't know the future then how do you know what genes are important? perhaps in the upcoming unplanned world scenario the gene for determination and desire is more important than the one for perfect fitness?

                If we plan too much and optimise too much then we are very vulnerable to risk.

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

              by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @05:41AM (#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 @09:13AM (#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?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by TrekkieGod (627867)

            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...

            That wasn't his heart defect cropping up. That was him pushing himself farther than he could (he was running for a longer period of time than his fitness level should allow). He did this because he had assumed the identity of someone who was a genetic match to become a great athlete (although Jerome apparently didn't have the drive to achieve his potential). He didn't have a heart attack and need hospitalization, he was just completely and utterly out of breath. Notice he didn't have any problems with h

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn (898314) *

      Can you look them in the eye and say "choose cancer"?

      No, no I can't. I can, however, look them in the eye and say that removing any amount of genetic material or replacing it can have unexpected results. I'm not a biologist of any sort but we still don't have a full understanding of the human genome. Mapping, sure, but we're largely ignorant of what everything does.

      Assuming they can assure that this will only effect the cancer risk, then they should go for it.

      I recall a study [discovermagazine.com] that removed what was thought of as "junk DNA" from mice. In which cas

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        In which case, they were badly deformed and doomed from birth because that "junk" was actually acting as a decoy or buffer or something (I don't think they ever really figured it out) to absorb deformities.

        There was an article on /. not so long ago about the discovery that the "junk" DNA, and even proteins attached to the DNA, were responsible for regulating gene expression and what proteins were synthesized by genes.

        So it's possible that removing the junk wasn't so much like removing a buffer to mutation a

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mr Z (6791)

        Of course, in the article's case, they didn't remove anything. They screened out the embryos that had the undesirable gene. It's like the difference between buying a car with an automatic and trying to convert it to manual, versus only considering cars that come with manual transmissions when shopping.

        I do think it's fascinating that so much of the "junk" DNA may actually do something useful. It'll be interesting to find out exactly what.

      • by greg_barton (5551)

        I can, however, look them in the eye and say that removing any amount of genetic material or replacing it can have unexpected results.

        You know what else can have unexpected results?

        Birth.

    • by 4D6963 (933028)
      No there's really no tough choice there, dichotomies are not necessary in those situations you know. It's just screening, rejecting embryos that are much much more likely than others to end up being people with breast cancer. It's about as much playing God as picking lemons at the grocery store is.
    • by jd (1658)
      Depends what they "choose cancer" over. (yeah, yeah, doesn't apply in this case, but eventually will, so I'm going to consider the general case where it does.) We know that the nucleic DNA coding isn't the only thing that creates specific proteins. Junk DNA alters the interpretation, as do some of the other molecules that hang around the DNA.

      If you were to edit that segment of code, you cannot be certain (with today's knowledge) what impact that will have. The retrovirus method of inserting DNA caused a r

    • It's not just breast cancer. People with a defined mutation have higher rates of ovarian and prostate cancers. I really don't see what the problem is. There have been hundreds of mutations found in the BRCA1 gene that are associated with an increase in cancer development. So the woman's child doesn't have a detected mutation. What's with all the fear-mongering?

  • by z-j-y (1056250)

    (is it a boy or a girl?)

  • New how? (Score:5, Informative)

    by againjj (1132651) on Friday December 19, 2008 @06:46PM (#26179321)
    I don't understand what the real difference is from other types of embryo screening. Sure, there was a different method of screening here, but otherwise screening like this has been going on for a while. No new ethical implications that I see.
  • by theaveng (1243528) on Friday December 19, 2008 @06:49PM (#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.

  • damn you (Score:5, Funny)

    by nawcom (941663) on Friday December 19, 2008 @06:54PM (#26179437) Homepage
    Ayyy there wait one god-lovin minute!! You can make God-n-baby Jesus's decisions for dem!!! You damn city slickers er goin da hell yah hear?!?!?! If God wants someone da have tit cancer they'll have it!! You city slickers n yer crazy scientific method... *spits in empty faygo bottle*
  • Otherwise, the robots will take over.

  • BRCA1 is a known proto-oncogene with the potential to become an oncogene. That is, there are known, relatively common mutations that can occur on BRCA1 that will cause it to malfunction and cause/support cancer. However, in it's normal working function, BRCA1 is actually a tumor suppressor. So there is the distinct possibility that by knocking out BRCA that other, unintended consequences will result...
  • hold the phone (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eil (82413) on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:09PM (#26179597) Homepage Journal

    "licensed this treatment"?

    That is without a doubt one of the scariest things I've read lately.

    • Re:hold the phone (Score:4, Informative)

      by arkhan_jg (618674) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @01:37AM (#26182061)

      The HFEA is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK government regulator of treatments than involve well, embryos.

      They approve treatments that are reasonably safe and ethical; and deny approval for treatments that are unsafe or unethical.

      The US has the FDA to do the exact same thing for other treatments. I honestly don't see how legal regulation to prevent free-for-all medical treatment where the layman has no idea whether a given treatment is safe* or not is a bad thing.

      *For reasonable definitions of safe, there's no such thing as zero risk when dealing with medical treatments.

  • big deal (Score:3, Funny)

    by commodoresloat (172735) * on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:13PM (#26179629)

    Most babies are born not wearing any jeans at all!

  • Although it does its best not to, the BBC article does make it clear that the baby lacks BRCA1, a gene which was involved in a staggering prevalence of breast cancer in the family. However many other genes involved in breast cancer may still be present.
    • by quenda (644621)

      However many other genes involved in breast cancer may still be present.

      And most breast cancers are not due to hereditary causes.

  • by geekoid (135745)

    Now a line of decedents will be healthier.
    Bring on the high tech medicine!
    I still want a replacement clone and a head transplant.
    I want the body I had at 22.

  • to welcome our new eugenically conceived supermen overloads.

    HAIL KHAN!

  • Eugenics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mgrivich (1015787)
    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.
  • One of the disadvantages of Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD, which is what they used here) is that it requires implantation of a screened egg. That means all the lovely things that go with IVF [fertility] treatment -- drugs to synchronise your period with something a bit more predictable, in-vitro fertilisation, multiple embryos, and a few blood tests along the way.

    If you want to make babies the usual way (i.e. by having sex), then you can't use this technique to screen for less desirable traits.

  • Just to clarify the headline and summary, and as is pointed out in the quote from Dr. Alan Thornhill in the original article:

    Mutations in BRCA1 are linked to breast cancer , not just having the BRCA1 gene itself. BRCA1 [nih.gov] is a critical tumor suppressor gene that helps maintain genomic integrity. Again, specific mutations in BRCA1 have been linked to breast cancer, not just "carrying the BRCA1 gene". Most of us carry the BRCA1 gene and it is expressed in a wide variety of tissues throughout our bodies. The

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