HFEA agrees to extend policy on tissue typing

The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority has decided to extend the rules allowing embryos to be tested in order for families to have a child who could be a tissue match for a seriously ill brother or sister.

The test involves taking a cell sample from the embryo at around the eight cell stage. It allows a clinician to tissue type to find a match for an existing child. In 2001 the HFEA adopted a precautionary approach when considering this procedure and decided that it should only be permitted when it was combined with tests to enable parents to select embryos which are free from a serious genetic disorder. This was because the technique is invasive and there was a concern about a potential risk of damaging the embryo, so tissue typing was only allowed on cells which had already been taken from the embryo for genetic diagnosis. 

The HFEA has now carefully reviewed the medical, psychological and emotional implications for children and their families as well as the safety of the technique. There have been three further years during which successful embryo biopsies have been carried out, both in the UK and abroad and we're not aware of any evidence of increased risk.

Suzi Leather, HFEA Chair says:

"Faced with potential requests from parents who want to save a sick child, the emotional focus is understandably on the child who is ill. Our job is also to consider the welfare of the tissue matched child which will be born. Our review of the evidence available does not indicate that the embryo biopsy procedure disadvantages resulting babies compared to other IVF babies.  It also shows that the risks associated with sibling to sibling stem cell donation are low and that this treatment can benefit the whole family."

The HFEA requires that any application submitted to carry out this procedure must be fully supported by the clinical team who are going to treat the existing sick child and they will have to show that they have considered every other treatment possible first before applying to the HFEA and that every step has been taken to find an existing match using world wide tissue banks and cord blood banks. The HFEA regards preimplantation tissue typing as a last resort.


Notes to editors

Applications to carry out preimplantation tissue typing need to be made to the HFEA on a case-by-case basis.  Applications must be accompanied by a statement from the consultant responsible for the care of the sibling giving detailed explanation of why alternative treatments have not been successful and the reasoning that led them to prefer the one for which they are applying.  This should be supplemented by independent evidence in support of the decision (e.g. a second clinical opinion or the opinion of an appropriate professional body).

Follow up

Age appropriate counselling should be offered to all family members. Centres must report their detailed arrangements for conducting long-term follow-up studies of patients and families undergoing treatment, including long-term medical and psychosocial follow up of children born as a result.
Patients and their families should be strongly encouraged to participate in follow-up studies.

The HFEA was set up in August 1991 as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.  The HFEA's principal tasks are to license and monitor clinics that carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination (DI) and human embryo research. The HFEA also regulates the storage of gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos.

For further information please contact the HFEA press office.

Page last updated: 12 March 2009

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