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Call to track health of IVF children

24 November 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 286

The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) has published a report highlighting the need for 'improved monitoring and evaluation of assisted reproduction technology (ART)'. Called 'Assisted reproduction: a safe, sound future', the report follows a request from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) asking the MRC to review the evidence on potential health effects of new and existing ART procedures. It recommends a new system to follow up the long term effects of ART, and calls for more research into the safety and effectiveness of new and existing ART techniques.

The report is the result of a study carried out by an MRC working party, which consists of scientific experts, ethicists, consumer advocates and representatives from the HFEA and Department of Health. Commenting on the launch of the report, working group chair Catherine Peckham said: 'There is widespread evidence that current ART procedures are safe', adding 'however, improved evaluation of the long term effects of ART is important'.

The report concludes that current research into any potential adverse effects of ART is hampered by strict laws about data release, linkage to NHS information systems, and consent and confidentiality, and also by a lack of comprehensive, accessible data suitable for long-term follow-up studies. Earlier this month, the HFEA was reported to be pressing for a change in the law, so that it can establish a national register of all fertility procedures carried out in UK clinics. The US President's Council on Bioethics has also suggested a similar register to hold data on all US births from fertility treatment.

In October, US scientists reported that overall, children conceived by IVF are no more likely to have major health problems than naturally conceived children. They found no evidence to suggest that IVF increases the incidence of major birth defects, cancers or problems in psychological or emotional development. However, it was found that IVF might have a 'negative impact' on some children during birth. The study also confirmed earlier work linking IVF to a slightly increased risk of some rare genetic conditions, caused by faulty 'genetic imprinting'. The panel, which reviewed 169 published studies, reported its findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Philadelphia.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Assisted reproduction: a safe, sound future
Medical Research Council |  24 November 2004
Call to Monitor Health of IVF Babies
The Scotsman |  23 November 2004
IVF 'needs more research'
The Guardian |  23 November 2004
New report identifies the need for improved evaluation of assisted reproduction technologies
Medical Research Council |  24 November 2004
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