Rare Disease Day 2021- Sickle Cell Disease

28th February 2021

At X&Y Fertility, we are proud to be supporting Rare Disease Day 2021.

Some rare diseases can affect people’s reproductive lives. Here we’ll talk about one specific rare disease, Sickle cell disease, to raise awareness of how some people can now choose to have a family free of the condition.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) causes red blood cells to have a crescent or “sickle” shape, rather than the normal round shape. People who have sickle cells can have anaemia, episodes of pain and be more prone to infections.

SCD is an inherited disease. Whilst it has no direct link to fertility, IVF treatment can be used to produce embryos that can then be screened, before they are transferred to the potential mum. If both potential parents are carriers of an autosomal recessive condition, there is a 25% (1 in 4) chance that the child will have the condition, a 50% (1 in 2) chance that the child will be a carrier like each of the parents, and a 25% (1 in 4) chance that the child will not have the condition nor be a carrier.

SCD affects up to 3% of births in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, around 14,000 children are born with the disease each year. Before the pandemic hit early last year, I visited a clinic in Ghana to perform IVF and preimplantation genetic testing of embryos for SCD. I gently biopsied a few cells from ten embryos that had been created in vitro (outside of the body). This procedure doesn’t harm the embryo, as the cells that are biopsied come from those that eventually form the placenta. However, it is a highly challenging microscopic procedure – so there was a lot of pressure to do it right!

After performing the biopsies, we then had to send the cells from each embryo to another country, where there was a specialist lab capable of performing the SCD assay (which is like a DNA test). Meanwhile, the embryology team in Ghana froze the embryos to await the results and I then travelled back to Leicester, just before the first UK lockdown was announced!

I kept in touch with the clinic to find out the results. These showed that just one embryo did not have the SCD trait! The couple were contacted and this embryo was scheduled to be thawed and transferred. And the best news of all was that the couple then got a positive pregnancy test!

I was delighted when the clinic contacted me earlier this month to let me know that on 4th February 2021, a healthy baby boy was born SCD free.

Once the pandemic is over, I plan to travel back to Ghana to meet the family, and to also help some more couples via fertility treatment to overcome this rare disease.

You can find the news article here to read more about this amazing achievement.