By Bio-IT World Staff
May 22, 2014 | GenePeeks has opened its in silico nursery, formally launching the Matchright screening service for families who are planning to use a sperm donor to conceive.
GenePeeks was awarded patents in late January for algorithms that simulate potential offspring. By genotyping both the mothers and potential donors, the company can scan the resulting “digital children,” flag pairings with an increased risk of inheriting rare genetic disorders, and point mothers toward donors with the lowest risks. The GenePeeks platform creates thousands of hypothetical offspring and evaluates risk for more than 500 recessive genetic diseases.
Through partnerships with two accredited sperm banks—Manhattan Cryobank in New York and the European Sperm Bank USA in Seattle—the Matchright analysis generates a personalized catalogue of risk-reduced donors for each prospective mother, filtering out donor matches with a high probability for passing on the conditions that the company targets. This process is layered on top of the sperm donor industry’s current genetic screening protocol, which determines a donor’s carrier status for just a handful of recessive diseases.
“We are over-conservative,” GenePeeks CSO Lee Silver told Bio-IT World in January
, “and so we’re going to call risk wherever we see risk.” Silver has been developing the GenePeeks algorithms since 2008. In practice, GenePeeks is finding that it removes about 20% of the donors from each woman’s list, which still leaves hundreds of possible donors.
The current 500 conditions GenePeeks screens for are all simple Mendelian disorders, with a one-to-one relation between genes and phenotypes, but there is room for expansion. Silver told Bio-IT World that his algorithms can scale to the whole genome. The company should be well-positioned to consider polygenic traits in the future.
“Ultimately, the power of the technology will really get expressed when we get to the challenge of estimating disease risk for complex diseases, where clusters of genes are involved,” Anne Morriss, GenePeeks’ founder and CEO, said earlier this year, although she stressed that “there are very powerful and relevant interaction effects even when you’re talking about single locus diseases.”