Infertile couples prefer their own `genetic time bomb'

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The Independent Online
COUPLES WHO have trouble conceiving are rejecting using donor sperm in favour of a new technique with a lower success rate because it allows them to have their own genetic child.

Figures published yesterday show there has been a 40 per cent increase in the use of Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) in the past year.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's (HFEA) annual report reveals that 9,295 ICSI treatments were carried out in 1997-98. This technique, used when the male partner has a low sperm count, involves a single sperm being injected directly into an egg.

There have been more than 3,000 births in the UK from the use of ICSI, which was first used in Britain in 1993. It is now used in over one-quarter of all in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments. Its initial success rate of 3.8 per cent rose to 21.6 per cent in 1996-97. The latest figures show that this has fallen to 20.7 per cent.

Some fertility experts have expressed concern that ICSI is a "genetic time bomb" because the treatment "bypasses the selective barriers of evolution".

There is conflicting research as to whether people conceived using ICSI have more genetic defects. In one study, ICSI children showed twice the incidence of birth defects than children conceived naturally. However the only British research conducted has shown that at about 18 months of age there were no major developmental differences between children born by ICSI and those conceived naturally.

A national register of ICSI children has been established to assess whether there are any long-term effects.

The success of the technique is largely dependent on the skill and experience of practitioners. Ruth Deech, chairman of the HFEA, said: "The HFEA continues to inspect licensed clinics offering ICSI to ensure that patients receive the highest standard of care and medical expertise."

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