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Making twins – in the lab

making-twins-in-the-labWhat happens when you are down to your last embryo and your chances of producing more are slim? This is a question facing many parents who are undergoing IVF. And this Greek fertility expert seems to have found a solution – artificially split up the embryo. In the process, Karl Illmensee, laboratory director at the Genesis Fertility Center in Patras, Greece, is creating twins and multiples in the lab.

Monozygotic (identical) twins and multiples are produced when an embryo spontaneously splits to produce several identical embryos. Illmensee does this manually. He claims that by splitting high quality embryos at the 6-to-8 cell stage, viable twins can be produced.

The success of an IVF cycle can depend largely on the number of embryos implanted. This technique can give couples who have a short supply of embryos higher chances of getting pregnant.

As expected, this technique is embroiled in controversy. Two main questions crop up: Is it ethical? Is it safe?

Is it ethical? After claims of human cloning, or performance of IVF on a 70-year-old woman, the ethical question in this issue seems pretty tame.

I am more concerned about the safety of the technique. Would the babies be healthy? Multiple pregnancies as such as associated with a high potential for genetic aberrations plus pregnancy complications that can threaten both the mother and the unborn children.

Illmensee counters objections by saying “splitting one embryo into two or more embryos could serve the needs of infertile couples in several ways. As long as a couple is fully informed of the risk of such an outcome, there would appear to be no major ethical objection.”


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