March 3, 2024

New York Times highlights IVF health risks

Some problems may not emerge until later in life

The health risks of IVF have been highlighted by the New York Times. Reporter Gina Kolata writes that "some studies indicate that there may be some abnormal patterns of gene expression associated with IVF and a possible increase in rare but devastating genetic disorders that appear to be directly linked to those unusual gene expression patterns. There also appears to be an increased risk of premature birth and of babies with low birth weight for their gestational age."

The IVF industry has been reluctant to question its own procedures, but researchers are beginning to suspect that the culture medium in which embryos are nurtured may affect the way that genes express themselves – sometimes in adverse ways.

A recent article in the journal Fertility and Sterility supports this concern. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health surveyed the literature and found that “There is biologic plausibility for concern, because embryo manipulations and ovarian stimulations associated with ART have clearly been shown to cause imprinting disorders in animals.” Oddly enough, this troubling issue has almost never surfaced in the media, even though the authors speak of “considerable evidence in animal studies”.

More than the health of IVF babies is at stake, apparently. Embryonic stem cells originate in the same culture media and using them may involve similar risks. Dr George Daley, a leading stem cell researcher at Harvard University, told the Times that he has seen epigenetic changes in stem cells. "My major concern is that we don’t have enough information, or the tools to measure epigenetic stability," he said. "It may or may not be relevant to the safety of the cells, though I suspect it is."

Studies are needed, researchers agree. But tracking the health of IVF children is not easy – especially if problems only appear in adulthood, or even middle or old age. Dr Alistair Sutcliffe of University College London, says more information is desperately needed. "I talk on this topic worldwide," he said. "My talks over time are based on the known literature. And I have gradually become slightly less optimistic about the things that are known about the health of the children" born after IVF and related procedures. ~ New York Times, Feb 16; Fertility and Sterility, Feb 6