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Lab helps create babies to aid sick siblings

Chicago procedure raise ethical concerns

CHICAGO -- In a growing practice that troubles some ethicists, a Chicago laboratory helped create five healthy babies so they could serve as stem-cell donors for their ailing brothers and sisters.

The infants, from different families, were screened and selected when they were still embryos to make sure they would be compatible donors. Their siblings suffered from leukemia or a rare and potentially lethal anemia.

This is the first time embryo tissue-typing has been done for common disorders like leukemia that are not inherited, and the results suggest that many more children than previously thought could benefit from the technology, said Dr. Anver Kuliev, a Chicago doctor who participated in the research.

"This technology has wide implications in medical practice," Kuliev said yesterday at a news conference.

The doctors said the healthy embryos that were not matches were frozen. But some ethicists said such perfectly healthy embryos could end up being discarded, as is common at fertility clinics.

Gilbert Meilaender, a professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, called the practice "morally troubling." The council recently called for increased scrutiny of the largely unregulated US fertility industry.

The five cases announced yesterday involved prenatal tests called preimplantation HLA testing, pioneered at Chicago's Reproductive Genetics Institute. The tests are an offshoot of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which has been done for more than 1,000 couples worldwide to determine test-tube embryos with genetic diseases such as Down syndrome, or, more recently, for sex selection.

The institute's doctors made headlines four years ago after performing embryo tissue-typing and genetic-disease screening for a Colorado couple who wanted to create a baby to save their daughter, who had a rare, inherited disease called Fanconi anemia. The resulting baby boy, Adam Nash, donated bone marrow in an operation doctors said was a success.

The cases, reported in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, involved nine couples. Five had infants considered suitable donors.

So far, stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of one infant have been donated to an ailing sibling, Kuliev said.

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