Slightly more than 4% of babies born via assisted reproductive technology, in vitro fertilization (IVF), may have major birth defects, such as heart, urinary, and genital tract malformations, according to a new study.
However, U.S. experts are quick to point out that these risks are not much different from what would be expected in the general population. The new research is slated to be presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Genetics in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Children in the study were born via IVF, a process in which egg and sperm are fertilized in a petri dish and then implanted in the woman’s uterus, and/or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which involves injecting a single sperm into an egg. IVF can also be performed with ICSI.
The major birth defects seen in babies born via IVF and/or ICSI included heart defects and malformations of the urogenital tract, such as hypospadias (an abnormality in the position of the opening of the urethra in boys). In the study, 110 children had genetic disorders, including six children with Beckwith-Weidemann syndrome, which is marked by body overgrowth, and may increase risk of certain cancers. Five children also had bilateral retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye’s retina).
Children born via assisted reproductive technology had a five times higher rate for minor birth defects such as angiomas (a benign tumor of small blood vessels causing a red growth on the skin). Angiomas were twice as common in girls as in boys, the study found.
It is not fully understood whether these birth defects or genetic diseases are caused by the infertility treatment itself or the underlying reason for infertility. Follow-up studies are planned, the researchers say.
Of note: These findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the “peer review” process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.