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Canadian study suggests that single-embryo transfer is safer option

18 April 2011
Appeared in BioNews 604

The authors of a new Canadian study have recommended a mandatory policy of single embryo transfer in an aim to reduce health complications arising from multiple births.

The researchers, led by Dr Keith Barrington from the University of Montreal, examined records from the neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Quebec between 2005-2007 to assess the impact of artificial reproductive technology (ART) on the number of twins, triplets and other multiples admitted to intensive care. They found that 17 percent (%) of babies admitted were from multiple pregnancies following ART.

The authors predicted that the number of deaths and serious health problems attributable to multiple births could be reduced in Canada if a nationwide policy of single embryo transfer were introduced. Such a strategy could also result in an annual saving of over $40 million, they said.

'We're creating more problems than we need to because of the way we are dealing with IVF', Dr Barrington explained. 'They are almost completely avoidable if we just changed practices'.

Women who carry twins are five times more likely to experience complications than those carrying only one baby. The risk of a multiple pregnancy following natural conception is around 1.5%, but this increases with the use of IVF. 'It is clear that physicians performing IVF are aware of these risks, but remain willing to perform procedures that increase the risks to mothers and babies', the authors argued.

Last year in Quebec, the government began funding up to three rounds of IVF treatment for couples, with the proviso that only one embryo be transferred at a time. 'Since July 2010, all of the fertility centres in Quebec have adopted this approach, and preliminary results show that twin gestation rates have dropped from 30% to 3.8%', Dr Barrington said.

The new study was published in the Journal of Paediatrics.

One-embryo limit would save money, lives
News com Australia |  14 April 2011
Study: Mandated IVF Coverage Means Fewer Multiples
NPR |  14 April 2011
The Epidemic of Multiple Gestations and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Use: The Cost of Irresponsibility
The Journal of Pediatrics |  14 April 2011
Tighter controls would lower infant deaths, hospital care related to in vitro procedures: Study
Montreal Gazette |  14 April 2011
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