UCL News


Legal breakthrough for cancer testing

22 November 2004

A landmark ruling by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has given the go ahead to Dr Paul Serhal (Obstetrics and Gynaecology) to screen embryos for the gene which causes familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

Dr Paul Serhal FAP is characterised by the appearance in childhood of hundreds of polyps which invariably undergo malignant transformation. 

FAP accounts for 10%-12% of cases of bowel cancer and affects 50% of those born with the gene. The disease generally develops between the ages of 20 and 40 and if left untreated will result in death. Dr Serhal said: "This ruling is a major landmark as it signals a shift in thinking which will eradicate the root of this condition. Families live in fear of passing on this abnormality to their children but by screening for FAP we will be able to put an end to these fears."

Dr Serhal will use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to screen for FAP; the procedure means that only embryos which are free from the harmful gene will be selected for IVF. Dr Serhal believes the technique could be equally effective in screening for other forms of genetic cancer such as breast cancer and retinoblastoma, a highly malignant tumour of the retina.

"The use of PGD in cancers such as FAP is to do with life or death - we're not meddling in nature we're giving nature a helping hand," commented Dr Serhal.