Reproductive testing is one of the hottest fields in which genetics is going mainstream, a field hurdling us rapidly into the future. It’s an area we’ll be following closely in 2018.
Gary Harton serves as the Chief Operating Officer in the US for Igenomix, a company in the reproductive testing space with a vast global presence. The company has labs in the US, Japan, India, Turkey, Rome, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and are headquartered in Valencia, Spain.
This international operation across so many cultures and national borders has its logistical and regulatory challenges, but it also offers the company an opportunity to introduce tests to cultures which are early adopters in a field fraught with big ethical and cultural decisions. With these more open cultures, the company can develop new tests and supporting clinical data.
The company’s most common test is preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) where embryos are checked during an IVF cycle for chromosomal abnormalities. According to Gary the test has gone mainstream in the US, but not in Europe. Yet in Europe, there can be wide variability. Spain and Italy tend to be early adopters and open to new testing technologies, whereas France is highly regulated.
One of Igenomix's newer tests is preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This offers parents who have a disease such as Huntington’s or cystic fibrosis--or are disease carriers--to eliminate that disease from their embryos through genetic testing. There is widespread support for PGD being used for this purpose. However the test can also be used for enhancements, or the grey area between disease and enhancements. Here, of course, decisions get much more complicated. For example, Gary says that recently the company had a request from deaf parents to select for deafness with their embryos. Should the company offer such a test?
How does Igenomix decide which traits to select for? Are there governing regulatory bodies that issue guidelines? A year ago we interviewed Hank Greely, author of The End of Sex, who argued that in 20-40 years parents would not use sex to reproduce. Does Gary agree with Hank's bold prediction?
We also talk with Gary about some less thorny issues. Years ago, the industry used FISH technology for testing then switched to arrays. Now most everything is done with NGS. How has NGS and new automated liquid handling technologies impacted the field? Has this raised the quality of testing?
It's a rare glimpse into life for some pioneers taking genetics into the future, and Gary is open and transparent.