ART Birth Defect Risks

Assisted reproduction techniques (ART) are a modern miracle that enables the infertile to conceive, but should we put our complete faith in these measures? According to a French study, babies born as a result of ART have twice the rate of birth defects of babies who are conceived by natural means. The researchers say that physicians need to warn parents-to-be of the risk for birth defects before allowing them to go ahead with ART treatments. Among the variety of treatments for infertility that go under the heading of ART are in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Twice The Risk

Clinical geneticist Geraldine Viot, from Paris' Maternity Port Royal hospital said her team found major birth defects in 4.24% of children born as a result of ART. Viot presented these findings to a Stockholm conference of the European Society of Human Genetics. The geneticist says this is twice the rate for birth defects as seen among the general population.

For purposes of this study, Viot and her colleagues gathered data from a total of 33 fertility clinics in France, focusing on births following ART between the years 2003-2007. The number of children whose births were studied came to 15,162.

Heart Trouble

The research team handed out questionnaires to both the parents of these children and the children's pediatricians. The incidence of birth defects was compared to data in the national registry. ART babies were found to have a higher incidence for heart trouble, reproductive system defects, and urinary problems. The incidence was highest in baby boys.

In terms of minor defects, the risk for angioma was increased by five-fold in the ART babies. Angiomas are non-cancerous tumors that are made up of small capillaries that are on or close to the surface of the skin. These tumors were seen twice as often in girls than in boys.

Viot says that some 200,000 babies have been born to French couples as a result of the new-fangled ART treatments and that these rates for birth defects need to be seen in the light of being "a public health issue." Doctors and public officials should be made aware of this problem. The children born as a result of ART should have their progress followed. Physicians should also make efforts to determine which techniques are responsible for causing these defects.

Earlier research found a link between ART and low birth weights, early deliveries, cerebral palsy and other serious birth defects. Some experts fear that ART may trigger gene mutations.

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