It’s been 40 years since Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby was born. Since then millions of babies conceived via in vitro fertilization have entered the world and gone on to live normal, healthy lives.
In fact Brown’s recently born baby boy was conceived the old fashioned way.
But IVF involves growing embryos in a petri dish for days before implantation. Can that really be risk free?
No it turns out, but the risks-while still not completely understood-are small.
Last fall the CDC reported that IVF babies have a slightly higher risk of birth defects including atrial septal defect, cleft palate and digestive system abnormalities. About 1.1% of the mothers of normal babies had used IVF, whereas 2.4% of mothers that had babies with birth defects had used IVF.
And a few hereditary syndromes are more common among IVF babies. Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, which is characterized by tissue hyperplasia and multiple childhood cancers, occurs in less than 1 in 13,000 normal births, but it’s 10 times more frequent in IVF babies.
Angelman syndrome, which is characterized by mental retardation and motor defects, is also linked to IVF.
“There is a growing consensus…that there are risks,” said Richard Schultz, the associate dean for the natural sciences at the University of Pennsylvania told the New York Times. “It is now incumbent on us to figure out what…we can do…to minimize (them).”
Scientists believe the culture medium used during incubation affects gene expression but as of now there is no standard medium and little data linking specific media to outcomes.
In fact, according to Elizabeth Ginsburg, director of IVF at Brigham and Women’s hospital, “programs use multiple media, and (frequently) switch from one media to another.”