Elizabeth Carr is the director of commercial development at Genomic Prediction, a start-up in New Jersey. The company claims that it can test embryos created in in vitro fertilization clinics for their future risk of common diseases. The idea behind this is to help parents choose the healthiest embryo before it is placed in the uterus. However, the offer is controversial as some critics see it as a form of eugenics for consumers. The American College of Medical Genetics says that the tests are “not yet suitable” for use in medicine and are unproven.
Despite this, Genomic Prediction is starting to promote these tests in fertility centers and at conferences. Carr, who also oversees sales and marketing, is the perfect person for the job because she was America’s first test-tube baby born in 1981. As a health journalist for the Boston Globe for 15 years, Carr covered several significant stories, including the Boston Marathon bombings and the first-ever face transplant.
Genomic Prediction claims that its genetic testing can predict a person’s risk of heart disease, schizophrenia, and other diseases. The tests cost around $1,000 per embryo and look for thousands of genetic differences, resulting in what is known as a polygenic score. Carr explains that the Embryo Health Score enables parents and doctors to compare the overall disease risk of the embryos, allowing them to choose the one with the lowest risk.
While embryo scores are controversial, Carr points out that IVF itself once raised similar concerns. Nonetheless, some geneticists call such testing unproven and even unethical. Recently, a group of genetics experts requested that the Federal Trade Commission review the advertising of Genomic Prediction. Carr believes that the resistance stems from fear and a lack of understanding.
Looking into the future, Carr believes that more people will take up IVF for entirely new purposes, and genetic testing will play a crucial role in this. However, Carr also sees certain drawbacks to being America’s first test-tube baby, such as being unable to lie about her age and still being called a baby.