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Boys born through ICSI have lower sperm counts

10 October 2016
Appeared in BioNews 872

The first generation of men born through intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) have lower sperm counts, according to a small study.

Researchers assessed the sperm count and quality from ejaculate semen of 54 single males who were conceived through ICSI, due to their fathers' infertility, and compared these to 57 males who were conceived naturally.

'These findings are not unexpected,' said Professor André Van Steirteghem, pioneer of ICSI and co-author of the study. 'Before ICSI was carried out, prospective parents were informed that it may well be that their sons may have impaired sperm and semen like their fathers. For all the parents this information was not a reason to abstain from ICSI because, as they said – if this happens ICSI can then also be a solution for our sons.'

ICSI is a technique where sperm is injected directly into the mother's egg. The fertilised egg is then placed in the mother’s womb. The technique was pioneered at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, and this study forms part of a larger project following the health of offspring born through this procedure.

The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that 42.6 percent of the ICSI-born males, aged between 18 to 22 years old, had a sperm concentration lower than the World Health Organisation’s 'normal' fertility criteria (15 million per millilitre of semen), compared with 21.1 percent of males born naturally.

Further, 53.8 percent of ICSI-born males had lower total sperm counts compared to 22.8 percent of males who were conceived naturally. The total numbers of motile sperm (sperm that can swim) were considerably reduced in boys born through ICSI.

However, although male infertility can be linked to genetic factors, the researchers from Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, Belgium also found that sperm concentration and total motile sperm did not correlate between fathers and sons. This indicates other factors are involved.

Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the study, said: 'Although the study only looked at a relatively small number of 54 men, I see this as quite reassuring as the worry has always been that ICSI-born males were destined for a poor reproductive future that may be equivalent to (or even worse than) their fathers, whereas this paper suggests this is not necessarily going to be the case.'

According to The Guardian, Professor Simon Fishel, managing director of Care Fertility, said that the findings were useful but not unexpected. 'Just having low semen parameters is not evidence for the requirement of ICSI or IVF technologies,' he said. 'We know many men with such are indeed able to conceive naturally. More follow up studies will be required to ascertain meaningful outcomes.'

Boys conceived through IVF technique have lower than average fertility
The Guardian |  6 October 2016
First results on semen quality from the world's oldest group of ICSI men
Eurekalert (press release) |  6 October 2016
Men conceived by IVF 'may inherit sperm problems'
NHS Choices |  6 October 2016
Semen quality of young adult ICSI offspring: the first results
Human Reproduction |  5 October 2016
Sons born with fertility treatment 'inherit problems'
BBC News |  6 October 2016
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