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Biotech Science

Baby To Be Born Without the Gene For Breast Cancer 259

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

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 19, 2008 @07:55PM (#26179459) Journal

    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 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. From the article:

    Hirotsune's team made their discovery during an unrelated study in which they inserted a fruit fly gene into embryonic mice. The fruit fly DNA disrupted the mouse pseudogene for makorin1, a gene thought to be associated with bone and kidney development. Most of the mice in this line died within days of birth, exhibiting severe kidney and bone deformities, even though the proper makorin1 gene was unaffected. Putting additional copies of makorin1 or its pseudogene into the mice helped only somewhat. But when Hirotsune reintroduced an intact copy of the original pseudogene into mouse embryos, the animals developed normally.

    So assuming this gene has no other function unfortunately might be something we don't find out ... until we try it.

    I sincerely wish them and their offspring the best of luck at leading full healthy lives. Were I in their place, I would be considering adoption.

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

    by g2devi ( 898503 ) on Friday December 19, 2008 @09:52PM (#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).

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

    by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Friday December 19, 2008 @10:24PM (#26180621) Homepage

    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 the hard ones (nor is this breast cancer thing a hard question).

    He's an example of a hard question for you. Suppose we find a gene that highly correlates with homosexuality.. let's say 80%. What then? Here's a slightly easier one (and likely more plausible). What do we do about fetal testing for deafness? (I think we've already found genes responsible for that).

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

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @01:11AM (#26181647)
    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 have been better to discard him as an embryo and let "him" live in the next body, as a somewhat different person, is one of those funny questions that will never have a good answer.
  • Re:Tough choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 20, 2008 @01:43AM (#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 @02:19AM (#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.

  • by thaig ( 415462 ) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @03:25AM (#26182249) Homepage

    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:3, Interesting)

    by TrekkieGod ( 627867 ) on Saturday December 20, 2008 @06:14PM (#26186675) Homepage Journal

    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 his heart when he was swimming against his brother. He was probably in the best physical shape he could be, but it wasn't enough to match what was expected of Jerome. That's normal. If I had spent the last 15 years training and running, I still wouldn't be a match for an olympic athlete. Training is a necessary but insufficient condition to compete at that level: you need to be born with something too.

    They made a point in the movie of describing Vincent's screening as coming up with a *high percentage chance* of heart failure, and not an actual health problem. He was willing to accept the risk, but nobody else was willing to invest in him. The risk-aversion of insurance companies was mentioned when Vincent's mother was unable to enroll him in a school (or child care, I don't remember).

    In addition, becoming a gattaca astronaut was probably a bit like becoming a NASA astronaut: a lot of people want to do it, so the competition is fierce enough that they get to pay you a comparatively low salary and the job requirements are far above and beyond what should be needed to determine if you're qualified for the job. As long as we have so many applicants to choose from, let's go ahead and get the person capable of being an olympic athlete. He's never going to have to run a marathon in space, but why the hell not pick the best?

    In short, Vincent is just going to have to exercise enough to not lose too much muscle and bone mass while in space. His eyesight isn't an issue as long as he took his contacts with him. What's going to get used the most is his brain, so he can conduct the scientific mission he was sent for. He proved he was qualified in that area when he designed the mission he was going on (without a single mistake, which apparently was unusual enough to warrant mention by his boss).

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.