IVF treatment used by 23,000 women in turmoil as shock report shows birth abnormalities have DOUBLEDSurvey shows injections used by 20,000 British couples a year reveals one in ten babies born with abnormalitiesFindings show all other IVF procedures are safeClinics accused of profiting from more expensive procedure
22:24 GMT, 5 May 2012
Fertility clinics are facing demands to restrict the most popular form of IVF after a shocking new report linked it to an increased risk of birth defects.
The study created a major alert after revealing the ICSI treatment, used by 23,000 women in the UK every year, creates a ‘sky high’ chance of having a baby with serious abnormalities.
The procedure, which involves injecting a single sperm into an egg, is used in both the NHS and the private sector, and now represents more than half of all IVF treatments. But it is more expensive than standard IVF, raising fears some clinics may be promoting it to increase profits.
Scientists behind the latest survey of 300,000 births found that one child in ten born following ICSI has a defect – twice the level of the general population – but that standard IVF has no extra risks compared with natural births.
Crucial moment: A single sperm is injected directly into an egg in ICSI treatment
Following the report, other experts called for clinics to use ICSI only when there was no medical alternative, and demanded a national database of children born from IVF be set up urgently.
Women who undergo the most popular IVF treatment in Britain are twice as likely to have babies with birth defects as the rest of the population, the shocking new survey revealed.
Women who undergo the ICSI process, in which a single sperm is injected into an egg, are more likely to have a baby with problems including cleft palate, heart and lung conditions, cerebral palsy and blood disorders.
The extensive research found that ten in every 100 births from ICSI had a defect, compared with five in 100 natural births. But other forms of IVF are no more risky than natural conception.
When other factors such as the mother’s age, smoking habits and underlying health problems are taken into account, the ICSI treatment is linked to a 57 per cent increase in birth defects, compared to natural conception.
The treatment was designed to help infertile men become fathers, but has become the dominant IVF process, accounting for 52 per cent of all such treatments carried out in this country. More than 23,000 women were treated using the technique in 2010, when 6,500 babies were born as a result.
GRACE SUFFERED KIDNEY PROBLEMS… THEY SHOULD HAVE TOLD US THE RISKS
Katy and David Shiers used ICSI to have their daughter Grace after spending four years trying to conceive naturally.
Mrs Shiers, 27, had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can lead to problems in becoming pregnant. Her 26-year-old husband had arthritis and his treatment could have affected his own fertility.
After one round of IVF failed, the couple, from Waterlooville, Hampshire, were offered ICSI by the Wessex Fertility clinic in Southampton.
Research plea: David and Katy Shiers with daughter Grace as a baby
Grace, now three, developed a brain cyst and kidney problems and was born at only 26 weeks.
Mrs Shiers, who looks after Grace full-time, said: ‘When Grace was in the neonatal intensive care ward, I would say about 80 per cent of the other babies there had been conceived using fertility treatment.
‘At least two were definitely from ICSI. There may well be something in that.
‘I obviously don’t know whether Grace’s problems are related to ICSI. But I would have been happier if someone had spelled out the risks. I don’t remember that happening at the time.
‘When you’re so desperate to have a family, as we were, someone could tell you it would be born with three heads and you wouldn’t care.
‘If someone said, “There is a low risk your child could be disabled”, I’d see that as a high chance the baby would be fine.
‘Having said that, I would 100 per cent back any move to issue parents doing this with more warnings about what the problems could be to avoid the shock we had.
‘There needs to be so much more research.’
Previous studies have raised concerns over birth defects from all forms of IVF, but the new research, published yesterday in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that the abnormalities stem specifically from using the ICSI method.
The study’s author, Professor Michael Davies from the University of Adelaide, said: ‘We know from the study that standard IVF is safe. But we also now know that with ICSI, the risk is sky high.’
Last night, British doctors said ICSI was too widely used and said it should only be offered if there is no alternative. They also suggested its popularity was caused by clinics promoting the treatment for commercial profit, as it costs an additional 1,000 on top of the 2,500 fee for standard IVF.
Scientists also called for a national register of births for all IVF treatments to be established to allow research into long-term effects.
Prof Davies said ICSI – intracytoplasmic sperm injection – effectively creates children from single sperm that Nature might have weeded out as unsuitable.
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Researchers said children born via ICSI were 57 per cent more likely to have an abnormality than those born by standard IVF
Unless you’ve had personal experience of infertility, it isn’t easy to understand how devastating it can be to find that you’re not able to become pregnant naturally or the lengths to which you would go in order to have a much-longed-for baby.
Couples who are trying unsuccessfully to conceive are faced with an ever-expanding fertility industry offering everything from the latest high-tech treatments to the wackiest complementary therapies.
ICSI, the focus of the new research, was developed in the early Nineties and has been a huge step forward in the treatment of male infertility. It has allowed men who once would never have been able to have their own genetic children to become fathers.
ICSI has been so successful that some clinics now use it widely, and may offer it even when there isn’t a male fertility problem. Cynics might suggest that this is because ICSI is a more expensive treatment and makes the specialists more money, but it’s also true that some clinics believe they get better success rates when they use ICSI.
So what should couples do if they’re about to embark on fertility treatment in the light of this new research The message for anyone having standard IVF is extremely positive and reassuring, but there may be more concerns for those who have been recommended ICSI.
Talking it through with your fertility specialist is a good idea, and if you’re considering ICSI as an optional add-on to your treatment, you may want to think about whether you really need it.
For couples where there is a male factor fertility problem and ICSI is the only possibility, the real risks are still small, and ICSI has produced many thousands of healthy babies.
What’s more, one interesting result from the research was that when embryos created using ICSI were frozen, the risks were reduced. It has been suggested that only the most robust embryos will survive the freezing and thawing process.
The researchers themselves haven’t concluded that couples who need ICSI for male fertility problems should not go ahead with the treatment, but have shown that considering freezing embryos before having them transferred is something couples may want to think about.
This particular research paper is actually a good news story for fertility patients, as it has found that babies born after standard IVF treatment have no greater risk of problems than those conceived naturally.
Infertility is tough, and one of the best ways to help yourself get through it is to ensure that you are well-informed. If you’ve got concerns about any aspect of infertility or treatment, it’s always advisable to raise them with a doctor or fertility specialist who will be able to offer the best advice for your individual situation.