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WE'RE ALL READY TO GO WITH DESIGNER BABIES EXCLUSIVE; Decision opens door for second Midland clinic.

Byline: PAUL MALLEY

A LEADING West Midland fertility clinic is set to offer potentially lifesaving designer babies, the Sunday Mercury can reveal today.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority sparked controversy on Friday by approving a bid by Shahana and Raj Hashmi to create a baby to provide a donor for their sick son Zain. The two-year-old suffers from thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder, and will die without a bone marrow transplant. The designer baby bid will take place at a Nottingham clinic.

Now Dr Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services (MFS), which is based in Aldridge, West Midlands, has said that her clinic will soon be offering a similar service.

The Hashmis hope to use the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) technique to create a baby free of the blood disease and create a perfect donor match for Zain. PGD allows doctors to test andselect IVF embryos before being implanted into the womb.

When the Hashmi baby is born, stem cells from the umbilical cord will be used to give Zain a transplant.

The family, who have four children, will undergo IVF treatment at the Park Hospital Centre for Assisted Reproduction, Nottingham, before embryo cells are flown to the US for screening.

If one or two of the embryos match the necessary criteria, they will be implanted into Mrs Hashmi's womb.

Last night, Dr Lockwood told the Sunday Mercury that a less complex type of embryo screening could be available at the clinic in Aldridge within a year.

'We are already getting inquiries about PGD from would-be parents with genetic diseases,' she said.

'We have already got the expertise and the equipment, and we hope to be able to offer this type of PGD within a year. But we would need to apply to the HFEA for a licence first.'

Dr Lockwood, also chairman of the Essex committee of the British Fertility Society, said: 'We've not had any approaches from parents who, like the Hashmis, want to undergo PGD with the aim of saving their sick child.

'But following the publicity generated by this case, it's quite likely that we will get enquiries from some who may think this is a possible solution.

'The type of PGD used in the Hashmi case is a much more complex process than ours because it involves screening genes rather than whole chromosomes and will take longer to introduce.

'But we've got strong links with US clinics that could do this screening and we may well work in collaboration with them before looking to see if it can all be done inhouse here in Aldridge.'

Dr Lockwood played down the controversy surrounding PGD.

'There's a general consensus among the British Fertility Society that, in some cases, screening embryos is not only ethical and acceptable but the best possible medical treatment,' she said.

'In the Hashmis case, the baby won't be harmed because only cells from the cord that gets thrown away will be used.'

Ethical campaigners yesterday attacked the HFEA decision.

They claim the move was a 'dangerous precedent' that could be commercially exploited across the globe, according to Dr Anthony Cole, acting chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance.

A spokesman for the archdiocese of Birmingham said: 'This is morally objectionable to the Catholic Church and whatever good comes from it the end does not justify the means.'

CAPTION(S):

DONOR HOPE... Shahana Hashmi hopes Zain will be saved by stem cells from the new baby's umbilical cord; DOWNPLAYS PROTESTS... Dr Gillian Lockwood
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2002
Words:581
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