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UK allows embryo screening for presenilin

Monday 13 August 2012

UK couples with a family history of early onset Alzheimer's disease can now screen their embryos for the PSEN-1 and PSEN-2 presenilin genes. Only those found to be free of the genes would be implanted back into the womb. The parents themselves do not need to be tested, or find out if they have the genes.

The decision comes from the Government's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). In 2007, HFEA had already approved testing for the APP gene, which is the amyloid beta (A4) precursor protein.

Screening, or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), is used to test embryos for more than 100 fatal and debilitating conditions, including hereditary breast cancer, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.

Prof John Hardy, a neuroscientist at University College London, said:  "I’m so happy the HFEA has done this. It means families will be free of this scourge for all future generations and will really give people some hope."

Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK said screening could give peace of mind but also added that: "The testing could raise some moral issues because, unlike other genetic diseases that can strike at a very young age, people with early-onset inherited Alzheimer’s can still have many decades of their life before symptoms start to show."