Defect risk 'higher for assisted births'

A new study suggests that fertility treatment can increase the likelihood of congenital problems

Fertility treatment increases the risk of birth defects in babies, according to the largest scientific study of its kind. Babies conceived by assisted techniques are at least one-third more likely to suffer from congenital problems than those conceived naturally, the new research has found.

Birth defects including heart, spinal and urinary tract problems, limb abnormalities and cleft palates were present in more than 8 per cent of fertility-assisted pregnancies, compared with almost 6 per cent of babies conceived naturally, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The new study – believed to be the most comprehensive such research in the world – indicated that the risk of defects was different for various infertility treatments. Following examination of more than 300,000 births, researchers found that couples who did not need fertility treatment had a 5.8 per cent risk of having a baby with a birth defect, while the defect risk rose to 8.3 per cent where parents underwent assisted conception.

The study's leader, Professor Michael Davies, insisted the research team did not "want to scare people", pointing out that the vast majority of babies are born healthy.

Not all treatments were equally risky, the survey suggested. The results showed that in vitro fertilisation (IVF) posed the least risk to women opting for assisted conception, with defects occurring in 7.2 per cent of pregnancies. IVF's main alternative, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which involves the injection of a single sperm directly into an egg, was found to pose a higher risk, with major birth defects occurring in 9.9 per cent of births, almost one in 10.

Professor Davies said there were several theories about why ICSI was riskier, involving the potential use of damaged sperm or damage caused by manipulation of the sperm and egg in the laboratory. "There are factors associated with ICSI that require further research," he said.

The study takes into account other factors linked to birth defects including the underlying fertility problems and influences such as smoking.

One surprising finding is a tripling of risk among the small number of women who used the drug clomiphene citrate to stimulate ovary production. The drug, which is cheap and widely available on the internet, is known to cause foetal abnormalities if the woman taking it is unaware that she is already pregnant.

Professor Davies said: "While confined to a small group in our study, this is of particular concern as clomiphene citrate is now very widely available at low cost."

Since the birth of the first "test tube baby", Louise Brown, in Oldham in 1978, the number of births worldwide resulting from artificial fertilisation has grown to about a quarter of a million annually, with techniques ranging from stimulating the ovaries to produce eggs to the artificial insemination of a woman.

The latest Australian findings follow a report published in April by Nanjing Medical University, which found a similar level of risk among assisted pregnancies. Yet the Australian team's conclusion on the risk from ICSI clashes with that of the Chinese researchers, who found no difference compared with IVF.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

    £22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Locksmith / Security Engineer - London & Southern Counties

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of home security ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer / Developer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This creative agency requires a...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones