The idea of parents selecting genetically ideal children may appear science fiction, but bioethicists warn in a recent study that some businesses have already begun to give couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) the ability to select superior embryos using polygenic scoring.
According to Patrick Turley, an assistant professor of research at the University of Southern California’s Center for Economic and Social Research in Los Angeles, polygenic scores are a weighted average of the contributions of all of the genes they have information on in the genome to try to predict whether one person has a higher or lower rate of a disease or some trait.
Couples may be tempted to utilize polygenic scoring to select embryos expected to have certain qualities they value in the hopes of producing children who are taller, smarter, or less likely to suffer cancer or heart disease. However, experts contend that polygenic scores aren’t as predictive as genetics businesses promise, and that utilizing them to choose an embryo has many potential problems.
People are simply bad at calculating probability. They are just not good at it, and this is what polygenic scores entail, according to Michelle Meyer, associate director of research ethics at Geisinger Health System’s Center for Translational Bioethics and Health Policy in Danville, Pennsylvania. They are not at all guaranteed. They are very much forecasts, and they are immensely worse than weather predictions, which everyone knows are flawed.
Despite its flaws, the technology is likely to improve as scientists get a better knowledge of genetic risk.
As it develops, Meyer believes that this service will pave the way for a future in which there will be genetic haves and have-nots.
Given the existing inequities in medicine, Meyer believes it is not too far-fetched to contemplate.
For the time being, specialists are mostly worried that polygenic embryo score is misleading potential parents.
According to the researchers, genetics firms have promised polygenic scoring of embryos that will weigh the risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease, intellectual disability, dwarfism, and a variety of other common medical conditions.
Scientists just don’t know enough about human genetics to make solid assurances that these scores will have a substantial impact on the individual features of such chosen offspring, according to Meyer.
Parents, for example, may desire to utilize polygenic scoring to minimize the chance of having a kid with short height.
However, a kid selected in this method may be anticipated to be just 1 inch higher than normal, a conclusion that is unlikely to be practically relevant and may surprise parents who feel they have effectively selected against small height, according to the research.
According to the research, an embryo picked based on the polygenic score for educational achievement would have a 16 percent greater chance of bipolar illness, with the ensuing child’s absolute genetic risk for bipolar jumping from 1% to 1.16 percent.
When they analyze who can afford IVF in the first place, and which groups now benefit from an increased understanding of human genetics, broader socioeconomic consequences emerge.
According to Meyer, IVF costs tens of thousands of dollars every cycle and is not covered by most insurance, making it a process that only wealthy couples can afford.
People with money are also more likely to benefit from existing health disparities in the United States.
Even if a Black, Asian, or Hispanic couple can afford IVF today, polygenic scoring of their embryos is unlikely to help them as much.
This is because the majority of the genetic data obtained thus far has concentrated on people of European heritage, making the score more accurate for such people, according to the scientists.
Meyer wants the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in and safeguard couples from genetic analysis businesses’ misleading claims.