A report published recently by researchers from USC, UCLA and elsewhere raises serious questions about the benefits, risks and ethics of a new service that allows in-vitro fertilization patients to select embryos with the goal of choosing healthier and even smarter children.

The multinational research team describes the limitations of what the authors call “embryo selection based on polygenic scores” — or ESPS — “and warns of the risk that patients and even in-vitro fertilization clinicians may form the impression that ESPS is more effective and less risky than it is,” according to a USC statement.

The report’s authors highlight that since the same gene often influences many different traits, ESPS designed to select for one trait can lead to the unintentional selection of adverse traits. They also warn about the potential of ESPS to alter population demographics, exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities and devalue certain traits.

If ESPS continues to be available to IVF patients, the researchers call on the Federal Trade Commission to develop and enforce standards for responsible communication about the service. The authors of the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine also call for a society-wide conversation about the ethical use of the technology and whether it should be regulated.

Multiple companies are now working with IVF clinics to offer ESPS to patients who want to select an embryo with a lower chance than other embryos of developing, as an adult, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

One company also offers ESPS for selecting embryos according to their predicted educational attainment, household income and cognitive ability. The founder of another company has not ruled out someday offering ESPS in some countries for skin color or above-average cognitive ability, according to the report.

Full story at Santa Monica Patch.