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Top IVF clinic mistakenly uses genetically abnormal sperm to treat infertile couples

2 November 2009
Appeared in BioNews 532

A mistake at one of London's top fertility clinics has resulted in more than 11 women being treated with genetically abnormal sperm, according to an exposé published in the Independent on Sunday newspaper this week. Embryo created from the sperm were more likely to miscarry or result in the birth of a child with a serious chromosomal disorder.

The London Women's Clinic (LWC), where the women were being treated, failed to carry out routine screening which would otherwise have detected the abnormal sperm. As a result, at least one of the women miscarried and she and her partner were subsequently left no choice other than to destroy all 22 of their frozen remaining embryos. The couple had spent a year and paid more than £15,000 being treated at the LWC, where 1,300 treatment cycles are carried out annually.

Had the LWC been following guidelines provided by the British Fertility Society (BFS), the abnormality would almost certainly have been detected and the donor rejected, according to Allan Pacey, secretary of the BFS. The LWC has accepted full responsibility for the error and is paying for the couple to have fertility treatment at another clinic abroad.

Clinics are required to make sure that certain processes, such as sperm screening, are witnessed by more than one member of staff to reduce the chance of mistakes being made. But an investigation carried out in January by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates the UK fertility sector, revealed that the LWC was failing to carry out these basic measures. By June the clinic was still using embryos created using sperm that had not undergone rigorous screening, according to an account published in the Independent on Sunday. After receiving reports of the incident, the HFEA ordered the clinic to stop using the sperm and to carry out a full and thorough audit of all other samples in use. The clinic subsequently adapted its operating procedures to include safety measures designed to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Following a series of scandals involving mistakes at UK fertility clinics, the HFEA has announced plans to 'name and shame' clinics found to be in breach of guidelines. Dr Sammy Lee, a London-based fertility expert, agreed that more had to be done to ensure that clinics stick to guidelines. 'It's a problem of compliance. The HFEA must make clinics adopt pharmaceutical-style quality audits,' he told the Independent on Sunday.

Blunder at top clinic sparks fresh IVF fears
Independent on Sunday |  1 November 2009
Fertility clinic used donor sperm with genetic flaw
Daily Mail |  2 November 2009
HFEA to publish incident reports
HFEA |  2 October 2009
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