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Next-generation genome sequencing yields healthy test-tube baby, scientists announce

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Baby's feet
Baby's feet

A technique that could render in-vitro fertilization (IVF) markedly more reliable, and maybe even less expensive, has for the first time been used to select an embryo that yielded the birth of a healthy baby boy.

Connor Levy was born in June to parents in Pennsylvania, who'd tried IVF on previous occasions without success, scientists announced on Monday. The situation of Levy's parents is hardly a unique one: only one-third of IVF procedures ever result in a baby, largely because of DNA abnormalities in the embryo that's selected. Scientists typically rely on a combination of visual inspection and blind luck to pick an embryo that'll be fertilized and then implanted, but a bevy of chromosomal abnormalities and genetic defects often thwart success. Existing tests that scan an embryo for some irregularities are slow and pricey: in the US, a single test runs around $3,000.

Specific genetic abnormalities or vulnerabilities to inherited illnesses

But the technique that led to Levy's birth, developed by a team out of the University of Oxford, might soon transform the uncertain nature of IVF for more people. By taking advantage of breakthroughs in sequencing technology, researchers are able use a single cell from each embryo to sequence around 2 percent of that embryo's DNA. Using that data, they can select a viable candidate for implantation. Right now, the technique is only used to spot chromosomal abnormalities, thought to be the primary cause of failed IVF. But as technology improves, researchers note, the method could also check embryos for specific genetic abnormalities or vulnerabilities to inherited illnesses.

Thus far, the Oxford team has used the method on two couples — in addition to Levy's parents, a woman in New York is expected to deliver her baby this summer. Next up? A larger-scale clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of the procedure on a group of prospective parents.