Wednesday, 5 January, 2011
In a first, a nine year old girl received tissue donated by her 18-month old brother Max who was created specifically so that he could aid her medical treatment – a procedure termed as “saviour sibling”. This is the first time that the procedure has been under the supervision of British researchers from IVF onwards.
Megan living in King’s Lynn, Norfolk suffered from a rare blood disorder which can cause bone marrow failure from birth. A search for a suitable bone marrow donor failed. With Fanconi’s Anemia needed transfusions every few weeks and was unable to fight infections. Although her parents Katie and Andy Matthews wanted another baby but were warned that the chance of the second baby born with perfect bone marrow match for Megan was still one in four. Also the second baby could be born with the deadly disease.
The research team from Cambridge, Bristol and Nottingham used donated cells from the specifically created baby and taken to treat Megan’s disorder. Two embryos were implanted into Mrs. Matthews by CARE Fertility in Nottingham after they were checked for transplant suitability. After the birth of Max, his cord blood was collected and an operation was carried out to take bone marrow for his sister. The treatment was paid for by the NHS. The tissue transplant took place in July this year at Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Megan is now recovering with only weekly check-ups at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge.
The procedure is fraught with ethical concerns said Simon Fishel, managing director of Care Fertility but in the end the benefits could outweigh the concerns. He said, “The ethical issues are in favour of doing this work. We are trying to save the life of a child and achieve a family without the enormous burden of a child with this disorder who would die.” Josephine Quintavalle, Director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said, “[Max] owes his life to his capacity to be of therapeutic use to his sick sister, otherwise he would not have been chosen in the first place. This is the big ethical problem.” The practice of creating savior siblings was made legal by the Human Fertilization and Embryology (HFE) Act 2008, which passed amidst much ethical controversy.