Defect risk higher for assisted fertility babies

Babies born to couples who had fertility treatment have a greater risk of birth abnormalities and doctors should be prepared to warn potential parents about these risks, French scientists said on Sunday.

Clinical geneticist Geraldine Viot said couples considering undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment should be told that the risk of birth defects is around twice that of babies conceived naturally.

ART includes various methods including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and a technique known as ICSI, in which a sperm is injected directly into an egg in a laboratory.

“We found a major congenital malformation in 4.24 percent of the (ART) children,” said Viot, of the Maternity Port Royal hospital in Paris, whose findings were presented to a conference of the European Society of Human Genetics in Stockholm.

She said this was around double the rate seen in the general population, but added that she thought most doctors working in fertility clinics in France only told couples about such risks if they were asked specific questions.

“Given that our study is the largest to date, we think that our data are ...likely to be statistically representative of the true picture,” Viot said in a commentary on her research.

A study published in 2009 found that the number of babies born worldwide through ART rose to 246,000 annually in 2002 from 219,000 in 2000.

Viot’s team conducted a survey of 33 French fertility clinics and studied data from all ART births from these clinics from 2003 to 2007 - giving a total of 15,162 children.

Questionnaires were completed both by the parents and the pediatrician, and the prevalence of birth abnormalities was compared with data from national registers.

The average age of the parents of babies with abnormalities was not statistically different from the other parents who had had fertility treatment.

Viot said the higher rate was in part due to more heart problems in ART babies, and also due to more abnormalities of the urinary and reproductive systems, particularly in boys.

Among minor defects, the scientists found a five times higher rate of angioma - benign tumors made up of small blood vessels on or near the surface of the skin. These occurred more than twice as frequently in girls than in boys.

Viot said that in France, some 200,000 children have been born after ART so far. This meant a birth abnormality rate of this size should be seen as “a public health issue.”

“It is important that all doctors and also politicians are informed about this,” she said.

“We also need to follow up all children born after ART and to put much more effort into trying to understand which of the procedures involved is implicated in this problem.”

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters)

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