Saturday, May 5, 2012

IVF babies are at higher risk of birth defects

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a technique used for pregnancy if the natural way fails. It gives many women a second chance at having a child, and is therefore a highly welcomed medical procedure. IVF procedures have been conducted for decades now, but it remains controversial whether this artificial way of conceiving a baby is harmful in any way. Scientists from the University of Adelaide looked at a large dataset and used it to show that an IVF baby has a much higher risk of having defects of some kind at birth. While it is not the first time a study pointed in this direction, it sure is a disturbing result for women wanting a child by artificial means.

According to the scientists, they have performed the most comprehensive study to date on the topic of assisted reproduction. This includes IVF, but also another technique called ICSI. Data from a total of 300.000 births and 18.000 birth defects were analysed, to assess whether there is a link with artificial fertilisation techniques. A total of 6100 assisted reproduction births were noted.
With IVF, a women's egg cell is fertilised in vitro, which means in a tube.
Statistical analysis revealed that assisted reproduction has a 8,3 percent chance of being accompanied with a birth defect. ICSI has been associated with the highest risk, with a percentage of 9,9 percent, which is almost twice as high as the risk of birth defects with natural conception. The risk for IVF turns out to be 7,2 percent. Reproduction without the aid of science still results in a 5,8 percent chance of defects, showing that nature is not perfect either. Nevertheless, the increased chance of complications when performing artificial fertilisation techniques is pretty clear.

There are many different forms of birth defects, well-known being heart problems or genetic issues that can, for example, cause the syndrome of Down. Additionally, gastro-intestinal and skeletal problems can be added to the list. Scientists already showed in previous studies that techniques such as IVF can be linked to certain individual problems, but the Australian dataset shows a very general pattern comprising of all observable birth defects. This renders it easier to put a number on the overall risk you take when opting for assisted reproduction.

Despite the controversy on this topic, it seems that the evidence points towards higher chance of birth defects for techniques like IVF. The large dataset makes for convincing proof that the choice for artificial reproduction should not be taken lightly. We already knew that IVF is something to be carefully considered, but the Australian study puts a number on how big the risk actually is, which turns out to be the most dramatic for ICSI treatment: the risk of birth defects almost doubles, which is shocking, and a problem for medicine. Future studies ought to reveal what causes artificial reproduction to be of higher risk.

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