New Technology Offers Genetics Blueprint Before Conception

Makers of a new technology claim that their product can give parents a look at their child's genetics before that child is even conceived.

The Gene Peeks Company's technology will be used in at least two U.S. fertility clinics beginning later this month. The company caters to women who use a sperm bank to have a child, and manufacturers say that their product is designed to help women make informed decisions about potential donors and help them avoid partners who carry genes that could lead to potentially dangerous conditions and complications in the infant.

The company sequences the woman's genetic code and that of potential donors, then uses algorithms to examine how the DNA will interact. The testing is intended to help women avoid using a donor whose genetic markers indicate an increased risk for genetic complications. Gene Peeks analyzes sperm donors for a minimum of 500 genetic conditions and more than 8,000,000 genetic mutations. When the testing is complete, the user gets a catalog of donors.

Some experts worry about where this technology is leading. Dr. Jeffrey Khan, a professor of Bioethics and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, warns that this technology is based on probabilities and he is mainly concerned that people will be confused by the details on what "might happen." Dr. Khan points out genetic counselors have done similar work for many years, most frequently in cases where couples have some history of genetic disorders.

This new technology is a modern extension of what has been happening in sperm banks for some time, as users search for specific traits when choosing a donor. However, Dr. Khan says the new technology is giving "a more refined and complex sense of what the combinations might produce."