Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
Thousands of children are conceived each year through assisted reproductive technologies, treatments meant to help couples who have fertility problems. But a new study of Danish children is linking fertility treatments with an increased risk that the children will develop a mental health problem later in life. Researchers described the increased risk as “modest,” but identifiable nonetheless when they compared children born to parents who underwent fertility treatments with children who were conceived without intervention.
The study looked at nearly 2.5 million children born between the years 1969 and 2006, most of whose parents who had no known fertility problems. Five percent of the parents had “registered fertility problems.” The children’s medical histories were followed until 2009, with researchers looking for any psychiatric disorders that required hospitalization. The children born to women with fertility problems were 33 percent more likely to have a psychiatric disorder, as ScienceDaily reports:
When separate analyses were performed for psychiatric disorders diagnosed during childhood (0-19 years) and in young adulthood (≥20 years), the investigators found that the risk estimates were not markedly changed, indicating that the increased risks persist into adulthood.
Commenting on the results, Dr. [Allan] Jensen said that professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of women with fertility problems should be aware of “the small, but potentially increased risk of psychiatric disorders among the children born to women with fertility problems.” However, this knowledge, he added, “should always be balanced against the physical and psychological benefits of a pregnancy.”
Only a few studies have investigated the risk of psychiatric disorders among children born after fertility treatment. Although results from most of these studies do not find an increased risk, the results do show substantial variation, said Dr Jensen; this may be because of the limited size and follow-up time in most of them. This study is the first with sufficient numbers and an adequately long follow-up period to enable a realistic assessment of risk patterns into young adulthood.
Jensen added that the study did not make a conclusion on whether it was fertility treatments or the underlying cause of the infertility–possibly genetic–that was responsible for the increased mental health risk.
Image: Fertility lab, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, February 27th, 2014
A fertility treatment in which the genetic material of three different people are combined to create an embryo that is free of certain genetic defects is under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration amid claims that the therapy could amount to creating “designer babies.” More on the ethically complex method from The New York Times:
The agency has asked a panel of experts to summarize current science to determine whether the approach — which has been performed successfully in monkeys by researchers in Oregon and in people more than a decade ago — is safe enough to be used again in people.
The F.D.A. meeting, on Tuesday and Wednesday, is meant to address the scientific issues around the procedure, not the ethics. Regulators are asking scientists to discuss the risks to the mother and the potential child and how future studies should be structured, among other issues. The meeting is being closely watched. The science of such therapies has advanced significantly in recent years, and many scientists are urging federal regulators to ease requirements for study in humans.
The procedure in question involves mitochondria, the power producers in cells that convert energy into a form that cells can use. Mitochondria with defects that could be passed to a fetus are replaced with healthy mitochondria from another woman. This is done either before or after an egg is fertilized.
Scientists have already experimented with combining genetic material from cells of three people. In 2001, researchers in New Jersey did so using material from the cytoplasm, the material that surrounds the nucleus of the egg and directs its development after fertilization, from fertile women into the eggs of infertile women. More than 17 babies have been born this way in the United States.
The practice raised questions and eventually led the F.D.A. to tell researchers that they could not perform such procedures in humans without getting special permission from the agency. Since then, studies have been confined to animals.
But a researcher in Oregon, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, has performed the mitochondrial procedure in monkeys and has said that it is ready to be tried in people.
Such genetic methods have been controversial in the United States, where critics and some elected officials wonder how far scientists plan to go in their efforts to engineer humans, and question whether these methods might create other problems.
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Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
A new technique that takes 3D film of moving sperm could help doctors select those sperm that have the best chance of fertilizing an egg and leading to a successful pregnancy in cases where couples are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) fertility treatments. More from The Optical Society, the professional scientific organization that published the research in its journal:
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Now doctors may soon have a new technique to help them sort the good sperm cells from the less viable ones: a tracking system, developed by a team of researchers from four European institutions, that takes 3-D movies of living sperm. In addition to showing the sperm’s movement and behavior in real time, the novel method simultaneously provides detailed 3-D imaging of the sperm’s form and structure to detect potential infertility-causing anomalies, such as the “bent tail” that prevents the cells from swimming straight.
The researchers say this is the first technique for collecting data on sperm cell motility—a key predictor of IVF success—in three dimensions and over time. They describe their method in a paper published today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express.
Currently, sperm concentration and mobility in semen are assessed either by subjective visual evaluation or a process known as computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA). While the latter provides more detail and fewer errors than the former, CASA still only allows tracking and imaging in two dimensions. In their new technique, the team of researchers from Italy and Belgium combined microscopy and holography—the creation of 3-D images—to visualize live sperm in not only two dimensions (the x and y positions) but according to their depth (z position) as well.
And, “by acquiring a video of the moving sperm in 3-D, we add a fourth dimension – time,” said lead author Giuseppe Di Caprio of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems of the National Research Council (NRC) in Naples, Italy, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Monday, January 13th, 2014
Country music star Joe Nichols and his wife Heather are expecting their third child, PEOPLE.com is reporting:
There’s another baby on the way for the country crooner and his wife Heather, his rep confirms to PEOPLE. In addition to the couple’s 20-month-old daughterDylan River, Nichols is also dad to Ashelyn, 15.
“Joe, Heather and Dylan are very excited to be welcoming a new baby by summer,” his rep tells PEOPLE.
Nichols, 37, announced the news Thursday on Twitter.
“Aaaaaaand we’re pregnant again! Another baby Nichols on the way in 2014!” he wrote.
This is especially happy news as the couple, who have been married since 2007, has been open about their difficulty carrying a baby to term. Heather suffers from an auto-immune condition which led to five miscarriages before fertility treatments and a number of specialists helped her to successfully deliver Dylan.
Image: Joe Nichols, via DFree / Shutterstock.com
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Thursday, December 5th, 2013
A rise in the number of multiples–triplets or even more–born in the U.S. is being attributed in a new study to a number of fertility treatments. Though many believe multiple births to be a result of multiple embryos being transferred during in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, attributes the phenomenon more to drugs given to women to encourage them to produce more eggs. The Associated Press has more:
Multiple births raise medical risks and hospital bills for moms and babies. Guidelines urging the use of fewer embryos were strengthened following the 2009 “Octomom” case, in which a California woman had octuplets after her doctor transferred 12 embryos made from an IVF treatment.
But most cases of infertility are treated not with IVF but simpler measures such as drugs to make the ovaries produce eggs. The first step often is a pill, Clomid, to spur hormones that aid conception. If that doesn’t work, more powerful drugs can be given in shots, but those bring a much higher risk of multiple eggs being released.
Doctors are supposed to use ultrasound and blood tests to monitor how many eggs are being produced and advise couples against trying to conceive that month if there are too many, to minimize the risk of multiple births. But that monitoring often isn’t done, or done well, and couples eager for a baby may disregard the advice.
“It’s very easy to demonize this dumb doctor who didn’t do the right thing. That may not always be the case,” said Dr. Nanette Santoro, obstetrics chief at the University of Colorado in Denver. “Frustrated people who don’t get pregnant after a couple cycles will think more is better. It’s the American way.”
The new study examined trends over several decades and finds that the rate of triplet and higher-order births peaked in 1998 and has been declining since then.
From 1998 to 2011, the estimated proportion of twin births due to IVF increased from 10 percent to 17 percent, while the proportion of triplets-and-more declined.
During the same period, the estimated proportion of triplet and bigger multiple births from non-IVF treatments such as fertility drugs increased from 36 percent to 45 percent.
Image: Infant sleepers on clothesline, via Shutterstock
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