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A Sister's Hope: 6-Year-Old Girl's Baby Brother Born to Save Her Life

Aired October 3, 2000 - 2:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to a story of hope combined with genetic research. It's about a little girl, just 6 years old, and her baby brother, brought into this world to save her life.

CNN medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland takes a look at the medical procedure the parents relied on, and the questions it raises about our ability to create designer babies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six- year-old Molly Nash with baby brother Adam, who was carefully picked to save her life.

LISA NASH: I was going to save Molly no matter how, and I wanted Molly to have siblings.

ROWLAND: She was born with Fanconi Anemia, a deadly, genetic disease that can lead to Leukemia.

NASH: She has not had a life that a normal 6-year-old has had. She's never gone to school.

ROWLAND: Molly needed a bone marrow transplant: the better the match, the better her chance's for survival. The ideal solution: bone marrow from umbilical cord blood from a perfectly matched sibling.

DR. JOHN WAGNER, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA: What's new here is not the use of umbilical cord blood in the treatment of a life-threatening disease, but it's the way that the transplant was engineered and the way the baby was conceived.

ROWLAND: Adam was conceived through in vitro fertilization, the egg and sperm placed together in the laboratory. Then, on the third day, the embryos were screened genetically to guarantee a perfect match and the absence of the disease plaguing Molly. Then the chosen embryo was put back in the mother.

The technique, called Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis, has been used in about 300 children worldwide.

WAGNER: What this technology did was take away the guesswork. It allowed them to have and know that they were going to have a healthy child, and one that would be atrially matched.

ROWLAND: But the technology raises questions: Is it ethical to select traits of a future child?

DIANNE BARTELS, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR BIOETHICS: These are reasons most people in ethics would agree are the best uses for this kind of technology.

ROWLAND: Currently, Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis is limited to ruling out embryos destined for debilitating or deadly genetic diseases.

NASH: That's what we had to do for us, as I would hope that people who felt this was inappropriate would feel that it was inappropriate for them and not judge me unless they've been where I've been.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLAND: The doctors treating Molly tell us they are already encouraged, but they will know in several weeks if the transplant was definitely a success. If it is, there is an 85 percent chance it will cure her bone marrow problem. That means her risk of developing Leukemia will be gone. But the transplant will not eliminate all of the symptoms of the disease. Some she will have to live with.

ALLEN: You say in your story 300 children have gone through this before, and while some people question the whole notion of designer babies, it doesn't seem like we are going backwards away from this any time soon.

ROWLAND: That is right. It will go forward from that point. But with these 300 babies who have been born with the procedure, almost all of them could have had some kind of genetic disease, a deadly kind of genetic disease.

And doctors do already have some tests that they can test for these particular diseases. And these are some of the most devastating of childhood. Some of the other diseases are sex linked.

So, for instance, like with Hemophilia, what a couple could do is they could go in and they could choose just the girl babies, and transplant just those particular embryos, and then avoid hemophilia, but so far, that's the only way doctors have been using this procedure.

ALLEN: And this couple has several embryos still frozen; correct?

ROWLAND: That is right. Actually, they started out with 12 embryos, and they selected one that did not have Fanconi Anemia and also that was the perfect genetic match, as far as the blood typing goes. And then the other 11 were also screened genetically. Two of them actually did test positive for this particular genetic disease. They have all been carefully tagged. They are all frozen, and the couple does want to have another child. What they will do is they will unfreeze or thaw out all these embryos, Natalie, and then they will just go from there and see what happens.

ALLEN: All right, Rhonda Rowland, what an interesting story, thanks.

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