A study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) claims that babies who were conceived with the aid of some in-vitro-fertilization (IVF) treatments may be at increased risk of intellectual impairment and autism. The largest study on the issue so far was conducted by researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, King’s College London and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. The researchers who carried out the study, however, emphasized that the risk was found to be only slightly higher in comparison to naturally conceived babies.
In order to see if there might be a link between the rising rates of autism and infertility treatments, American, British and Swedish researchers analyzed birth records of over 2.5 million people who were born between 1982 and 2007, and followed them until 2009. They focused on diagnoses of autism and intelligence disabilities such as intelligence below IQ score of 70. The researchers found that only 1.2 percent of children were conceived with the aid of some kind of infertility treatment. But they also found that children who were conceived by some IVF treatments were slightly more likely to be intellectually impaired.
Children who were conceived by IVF which involves direct injection of sperm cells into eggs (ICSI) were found to be 51 percent more likely to be intellectually impaired than naturally conceived babies. But as mentioned earlier, the actual risk was found to be very small – 93 per 100,000 as opposed to 62 per 100,000 in natural births. The risk was found to be highest in children who were conceived by a form of IVF in which the sperm is surgically extracted from the father – 136 per 100,000 compared to 29 per 100,000 in natural births. Children who were born with the aid of this type of IVF also had slightly higher rates of autism.
According to Sven Sandin from the King’s College London, IVF in overall poses a slightly higher risk of intellectual impairment but no link has been found between IVF in general and autism. Sandin, however, also added that IVF can’t be completely ruled out as a factor in the rising rates of autism. But he concluded that IVF alone can’t explain the increase of autism, adding that if it does contribute to this developmental disorder, it’s an extremely small fraction.
Avi Reichenberg from the Institute of Psychiatry and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York who also took part in the study said they weren’t able to find a cause for slightly increased risk of intellectual disability in children conceived by IVF. Reichenberg explained that a number of factors may play a role including the type of IVF, number of embryos, preterm/full term pregnancy, etc.
Dr. Allan Pacey, the Chairman of the British Fertility Society who wasn’t involved in the study said there is no reason for parents to be concerned about safety of infertility treatments. He said the risk of intellectual impairment and autism has been shown to be extremely low or absent. The study does, however, suggest that the standard forms of IVF and the use of ejaculated instead of extracted sperm may be a safer choice.
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