More places to go for genetic screening of IVF embryos

Testing for serious inheritable diseases now classified as mainstream clinical services

Would-be parents who risk passing serious inheritable diseases on to their offspring can now choose from more service providers offering genetic screening.

Pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT) for monogenic or single-gene defects (PGT-M) as well as chromosomal structural rearrangements (PGT-SR) - previously available to couples undergoing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) under a pilot programme - are now classified as mainstream regulated clinical services in a move which took effect on May 1.

"The introduction of PGT-M and PGT-SR as clinical services allows patients who require these services to potentially access a larger selection of providers, beyond those in the pilot programme," the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement yesterday.

PGT-M and PGT-SR, previously known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, have been available in Singapore since 2005 under a pilot programme.

There is no change in the eligibility criteria for patients to receive these treatments.

MOH said these services should be carried out only for couples at risk of passing on serious genetic disorders such as Harlequin ichthyosis, beta thalassemia and Huntington's disease.

"Based on findings from the pilot programme, PGT-M and PGT-SR were found to be safe and able to reduce the likelihood of live-born offspring being affected by these serious inheritable diseases.

"The live birth rate per embryo transfer from PGT-M and PGT-SR under the local programme is also in line with overseas centres," said the ministry.

Couples undergoing assisted reproduction treatment can access PGT services through both existing providers that meet the regulatory requirements and new providers when they receive approval.

Hospitals and clinics offering assisted reproduction services and clinical laboratories that currently offer or wish to offer PGT will need approval from MOH to continue or begin offering these services.

They must comply with the relevant regulatory terms and conditions under the amended Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Regulations, MOH said.

Some of the conditions that approved service providers will have to comply with include regulations on the clinical conditions for which PGT-M and PGT-SR are allowed to be carried out and the types of information they can provide to patients.

For example, the clinic is not allowed to include information about the sex of the embryo or any other genetic traits that are not related to the inheritable condition.

The service providers must comply with requirements on personnel training and competency.

Hospitals and clinics that violate the regulations may have their existing hospital or clinic licences suspended or revoked.

The ministry said it had received nine applications from hospitals and clinical laboratories to offer PGT services as at May 1.

The list of approved centres that eligible patients can go to will be made available on MOH's website.

MOH said there will be no immediate change to the level of financing support that couples will get for PGT-M and PGT-SR services, but it is reviewing the longer-term funding approach. It said more details will be announced in due course.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2021, with the headline More places to go for genetic screening of IVF embryos. Subscribe