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Fertility treatment only partly responsible for increase in birth defects

8 May 2012
Appeared in BioNews 655

The increase in birth defects in babies born after assisted conception could be partly due to underlying fertility problems, according to an Australian study.

The analysis, believed to be the most comprehensive of its kind, looked at the outcomes of 308,974 births in Southern Australia between 1986 and 2002, 6,163 of which used assisted reproductive techniques. They found that 8.3 percent of children born using assisted conception had some kind of birth defect, compared with 5.8 percent in those conceived naturally.

However, after adjusting the data to take into account other risk factors that could lead to birth defects, the University of Adelaide team found no significant increase in risk for babies conceived with in IVF.

But there was still a significant increase in risk for those conceived using ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), a technique to overcome male infertility. Author Professor Michael Davies attributed this to the fact that ICSI selects a single sperm and that this could be 'seriously defective' and if so it might 'never naturally fertilise an egg'. IVF allows sperm competition, and is therefore more similar to natural conception, he said.

In addition, the study found that women with a history of fertility problems, but who didn't have fertility treatment in order to conceive, were more likely to have children with birth defects.

'This, combined with the finding that those using ICSI also had slightly elevated risks of birth defects, suggest that the underlying problem that led them to seek medical assistance in the first place is likely contributing to the elevated risk of birth defects in their children', Dr Glenn Schattman, President of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology said in a statement.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that there was no significant difference in risk between the use of fresh or cryopreserved embryos in either IVF or ICSI.

Professor Joe Leigh Simpson, President-elect of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, said that while this study was interesting, they needed to consider if results from a generation ago are still relevant.

'We should also take this work seriously; it highlights the need for continued vigilance, perhaps especially with ICSI. Parents need to be counselled individually, but we need to keep things in perspective; the vast majority of births after assisted conception show no problems', he said.

Defect risk 'higher for assisted births'
Independent |  6 May 2012
Fears over one in ten baby defect rate in IVF treatment as experts unsure of where the problems lie
Daily Mail |  7 May 2012
In vitro fertilization off the hook for causing birth defects
Nature News blogs |  8 May 2012
Reproductive Technologies and the Risk of Birth Defects
NEJM |  5 May 2012
Some fertility treatments linked to higher risk of birth defects
LA Times |  5 May 2012
Study compares birth defect rates
Press Association |  5 May 2012
The Link Between Infertility Treatments and Birth Defects
Time Healthland |  7 May 2012
3 September 2018 - by Bethany Muller 
A large study in Australia has found a link between undescended testes at birth and development of testicular cancer and infertility in later life...
27 November 2017 - by Georgia Everett 
Children conceived using assisted reproductive techniques have a greater risk of congenital heart defects compared with children born through spontaneous conception, according to research...
24 October 2016 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Bearing a child at a higher age does not increase risk of birth defects when the woman has received IVF or ICSI treatment to become pregnant, a recent study suggests...
19 November 2012 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
Infants conceived by IVF are at significantly greater risk of birth defects compared to naturally conceived babies, announced scientists at a conference last month...
21 May 2012 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
Exposure to low levels of environmental toxins may reduce male sperm counts, research in sheep suggests...
13 February 2012 - by Nishat Hyder 
The rate of multiple births resulting from IVF treatment is to be no more than ten percent, announced the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), in the final stage of its policy to reduce IVF multiple birth rates in the UK....
9 January 2012 - by Victoria Kay 
There has been a rise in the number of British women choosing to give birth to fewer children following multiple pregnancy, leading to renewed calls for restrictions on the number of embryos implanted during IVF....
16 May 2011 - by Chris Chatterton 
The UK's fertility regulator published a report last Thursday that it says indicates its success at reducing multiple births from fertility treatment by promoting elective single embryo transfer (eSET)....
10 January 2011 - by Dr Gabrielle Samuel 
Researchers have developed a calculator that they claim can be used to provide people who are having fertility problems with an assessment of the likelihood of having a successful outcome following IVF...
8 November 2010 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
A new study suggests factors other than a couple's underlying fertility problems may explain an increased risk of cerebral palsy seen in children born following fertility treatment. Researchers at the University of Aarhus in Denmark who conducted the study emphasised the overall risk of cerebral palsy in children conceived through IVF or ICSI remains very low - approximately 0.57 percent, or one in every 176 babies born....
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