Is next generation sequencing the future of baby-making?

See the new procedure increasing the success rate of IVF by up to 50 percent and further reducing the risk of complications.

A baby rests in his father's hands

(Photo by Getty Images)

What well-intentioned mother-to-be doesn’t long for her baby to be perfectly healthy — and even from the very moment of conception.

In the not-too-distant future, that cherished hope may come ever closer to being realized, especially for those couples undergoing the expensive, complicated and often emotionally draining process that is in vitro fertilization (IVF).

An article in The Guardian recently celebrated the birth of the world’s first baby, born to a couple in the U.S., who was conceived using a groundbreaking screening procedure that not only has the potential to dramatically increase the IVF success rate but may also alter prenatal treatment in the years to come.

The procedure is known as ‘next generation sequencing’ and it effectively allows doctors to read the genetic material of an embryo or embryos and to select the one with the least number of chromosomal abnormalities. Essentially, it lets doctors select the best candidate for implantation, which in turn has an increased chance of being born a healthy baby.

As The Guardian article points out, this kind of screening represents a few distinct advantages. For one, it may help reduce the risk of babies being born with health issues or complications. But for the parents involved in IVF, it also significantly increases the success rate of the procedure, which in turn reduces both the financial strain and the emotional cost.

One expert quoted in the article suggests it ups the rate of conception by 50 percent (half of all miscarriages are the result of chromosomal abnormalities).

And yet, whenever Mother Nature gets strong-armed by scientific innovation, there is room for misjudgments, errors and unforeseen complications. It’s not crazy to think that one day we might choose to select an artificial means of ensuring babies are given the best start in life rather than take our chances on nature. Alternatively, the technology could be used to engineer babies, favouring certain physical attributes, for example.

The longterm implications of the screening remain unknown. But in the meantime, for couples struggling to conceive and who may have endured the heartache of multiple miscarriages, the news that there’s one more advantage in science’s arsenal can only be welcomed with open arms.

Do you think these genetic advances are for the greater good? Or are you a bit fearful of them? Tell us in the comment section below.