Using a combination of computer models and DNA tests, the startup company he’s working with, Genomic Prediction, thinks it has a way of predicting which IVF embryos in a laboratory dish would be most likely to develop type 1 diabetes or other complex diseases.
IVF clinics already test the DNA of embryos to spot rare diseases, like cystic fibrosis, caused by defects in a single gene.
These “Preimplantation” tests are poised for a dramatic leap forward as it becomes possible to peer more deeply at an embryo’s genome and create broad statistical forecasts about the person it would become.
Tellier, whose inspiration is the science fiction film Gattaca, says the company plans to offer reports to IVF doctors and parents identifying “Outliers”-those embryos whose genetic scores put them at the wrong end of a statistical curve for disorders such as diabetes, late-life osteoporosis, schizophrenia, and dwarfism, depending on whether models for those problems prove accurate.
Testing embryos for disease risks, including risks for diseases that develop only late in life, is considered ethically acceptable by U.S. fertility doctors.
In 2015, a team led by Rabinowitz and Jay Shendure of the University of Washington did it by sequencing in detail the genomes of two parents undergoing IVF. That let them infer the embryo’s genome sequence, even though the embryo test itself was no more accurate than before.
The society has been more ambivalent about choosing the sex of embryos, leaving it to the discretion of doctors.