- Danielle Taggar feared passing the faulty BRCA1 gene on to her children
- But Noah, now 1, was the first to be conceived through a new IVF treatment
- It involved screening the embryo before it was implanted into the womb
- Fertility experts found 3 out of 4 of her embryos did carry the mutation, leaving her with just once chance at creating a baby
Danielle Taggar longed to become a mother but feared it in equal measure.
As she watched her mother battle breast cancer – caused by a defective gene she too had inherited – she was terrified of passing the same fate onto her children.
But she was able to celebrate Noah’s first birthday on Friday, safe in the knowledge he does not have the mutation which has caused five of her immediate relatives to develop cancer.
The tot became the first named child to be conceived using a groundbreaking IVF technique, which involved screening the embryo before implantation.
Like Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, his mother had inherited the faulty BRCA1 gene, raising her risk of getting breast cancer by 90 per cent.
Danielle Taggar, 24, was scared of passing her defective gene to any children she chose to have. She was able to celebrate Noah’s first birthday safe in the knowledge that he does not have the mutation which increases the risk of cancer
She will undergo a mastectomy by the age of 28 and then then have a full hysterectomy in her thirties, which forced her to consider motherhood while relatively young.
The 24-year-old had already seen her aunts and cousins fight the disease, all while knowing there was a very real possibility that she would be next.
Miss Taggar said: ‘I wasn’t bothered when I found out I had the gene as it had always been in the back of my mind anyway. But I knew if there was a chance my baby could be free of the disease, I had to go for it.’
In 2013, Miss Taggar went to see a genetic counsellor at Leicester Royal Infirmary who told her about a new IVF treatment which could help her to conceive a baby without the deadly mutation.
‘I knew instantly that I wanted to undergo IVF, to see if I could have a baby without it,’ she told the Sun.
‘I have wanted to be a mum since I was 16. My partner Mason and I knew it was worth trying it.
‘I wasn’t at all worried about having to inject myself with hormones — all could think about was my baby’s health and how I didn’t want him or her to suffer because of something in their genes that I could have prevented.’
Miss Taggar had her first consultation for the £9,000 procedure, which was funded by the NHS, at CARE Fertility in Nottingham.
Noah became the first named child to be conceived using a groundbreaking IVF technique, which involved screening the embryo before implantation
She admitted it would have been a daunting experience had she given it too much thought but that she and her partner Mason Bradshaw, 25, were both convinced that it would work.
As with regular IVF for couples struggling to conceive, the treatment involved Ms Taggar injecting herself with hormones to help her to produce as many eggs as possible.
Of the nine eggs harvested which were then fertilised with Mr Bradshaw’s sperm, less than half of the embryos survived.
Fertility experts then tested samples, using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to see if they carried the faulty gene.
They discovered three out of the four embryos did carry it, leaving the couple with just one chance at creating a baby.
‘I was worried that I only had one embryo,’ she said. ‘All these questions were buzzing round in my mind about what would happen if the pregnancy failed.
‘Mason was confident it would work but I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t get pregnant.’
Knowing Noah, who has just started crawling, does not have the same heightened risk of cancer has made motherhood all the more special for Miss Taggar
Of nine eggs harvested, less than half of the embryos survived. Fertility experts then discovered three out of the four embryos did carry the gene, leaving the couple with just one chance at creating a baby (pregnancy scan pictured)
Despite the odds being stacked against them, the couple, from Blaby, Leicestershire, discovered she was expecting in March last year.
Miss Taggar immediately called the clinic and went for a scan when she was just seven weeks into the pregnancy.
‘The more scans I had, the more relieved I was that this was actually happening — and that my baby would be born without the faulty gene,’ she added.
‘I had been so worried that the pregnancy wouldn’t work out and I would lose him. But when Noah arrived weighing 6lb 8oz, I was instantly in love.’
Figures from Cancer Research UK show there are approximately 72,400 women in the UK with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
Men with the faulty gene have a one in 100 risk of developing breast cancer themselves and those with the BRCA2 gene mutation carry a 25 per cent risk of prostate cancer.
They would also have a 50/50 chance of passing it on to their children.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, the couple, from Blaby, Leicestershire, discovered she was expecting in March last year
The NHS funded the treatment, but if the couple want another baby, they would have to pay for it privately (Noah’s father, Mason Bradshaw, 25)
Knowing Noah, who has just started crawling, does not have the same heightened risk of cancer has made motherhood all the more special for Miss Taggar.
However, if the couple want another baby, they would have to pay for the treatment privately, something they said they would struggle to do.
HOW THE PROCESS WORKS
An embryo with a faulty BRCA gene looks just like any other, says Colleen Lynch, a fertility expert at CARE fertility.
It is a tiny coding mistake that can have massive ramifications in terms of a person’s susceptibility to cancer, so there is no way to look into a microscope and tell which embryo doesn’t have it.
We use the same technology to screen embryos for BRCA mutations as we do for genetic diseases. The technique is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
We take a blood sample from both parents. We also need a blood sample of the parent of the person who carries the faulty BRCA gene.
Hundreds of thousands of cells are analysed in these samples and allow us to identify inheritance within a family. This, in turn, helps us identify a faulty BRCA gene in an embryo.
When a woman’s eggs have been harvested and fertilised, a tiny number of cells are sent away for analysis.
Before the lab results come back, the embryos are frozen. The healthy ones are then thawed, ready for implantation.
If a woman becomes pregnant with an embryo that doesn’t have faulty BRCA genes, it means her baby has a much lower chance of developing breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.
‘He has a really cheeky little personality. He’s constantly smiling and is an absolute joy to be around,’ she said.
‘It is horrible to see your family members suffer with cancer and I’m pleased my son has a much lower chance of developing it.
‘I am proud of myself for taking action and going through IVF so he can hopefully live a long, healthy and happy life without the worry of surgery, like I have to face in a few years, or a heightened threat of cancer.
Miss Taggar’s mother Shauna, 50, is now in remission following a mastectomy, hysterectomy and chemotherapy.
The grandmother, whose family have been plagued by cancer over the years, said she wished the treatment had been available before she had her children.
Mr Bradshaw, a hospital clerk, said the whole process had been well worth the stress.
‘Noah is a bubbly little boy who’s very sociable and loud,’ he said. ‘It is a massive relief knowing that Noah won’t have to be tested to see if he is a carrier, or go through preventative treatments, or get cancer like the rest of Danielle’s family.’
Colleen Lynch, a fertility expert at CARE Fertility, said they had treated four couples in the last two years, two of which had given birth with a third now expecting.
‘People who choose to go through this process do so because they have seen generations of their families decimated by cancer. Although they could conceive naturally, they don’t want their children to suffer in the same way,’ she said.
‘If a woman becomes pregnant with an embryo that doesn’t have faulty BRCA genes, it means her child will have a far lower risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers — and we can ensure that happens using PGD.’