Fertility specialists are pushing for tighter controls to reduce the number of multiple births from IVF treatments, a leading expert said on Sunday.
The number of twins and triplets has risen since Louise Brown, the world’s first in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) baby, was born nearly three decades ago.
In Europe now, almost a quarter of successful fertility procedures result in multiple births.
Professor Paul Devroey, chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), believes it is too high and that more needs to be done to reduce the risk.
“There is a need to replace fewer embryos and ESHRE is pushing to do that,” he said in an interview before the start of the society’s annual meeting.
The number of embryos placed in the womb during IVF varies from one to four depending on the country. Doctors use more embryos to raise the chances of a pregnancy but it also increases the risk of multiple births, which is dangerous for the mother and children.
Having twins or triplets can lead to complications in the mother and premature birth, low birth weight and physical and developmental problems in the children.
“Fewer and fewer embryos are replaced in countries but still too many are transferred, especially in the high risk group of young women,” said Devroey.
He added that transferring one embryo gives almost the same result as two but without the risk of multiple births or the added costs of caring for premature infants.
WELFARE OF THE CHILD
Experts attending the conference will also present research on improving ways of freezing eggs, stopping IVF identity fraud and screening embryos for abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome.
Although pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) is not used in Germany, Italy and France, it is increasing in other countries, according to Devroey.
He added the techniques only screen certain chromosomes and called for more studies to determine whether PGS improves the success rate of fertility treatments.
More than 2 million babies worldwide have been born as a result of fertility treatment. In the United States the baby business is a $3 billion industry, while in Britain it is calculated to be worth $1 billion.
Despite the growing number of IVF babies, Devroey said there have been few long-term studies that have tracked their physical and emotional development.
“It is the responsibility of every center in the world to try to obtain from the pediatrician and the parents information about the welfare of the child,” he added.
Nearly 6,000 doctors, researchers and scientists are attending the four-day meeting in the Czech Republic.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD