The media has been full of headlines this weekend about a form of infertility treatment – ICSI – and an apparent link to birth defects.
A new study from Adelaide in South Australia linked a census of more than 6100 assisted-conception births to a registry of 308,974 births and 18,000 recorded birth defects in 1986-2002.
It found that babies born using Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection – where a single sperm is injected directly into the egg to fertilise it - had a higher risk of birth defects than those conceived naturally or by other forms of infertility treatment, such as IVF.
Scientists found the risk of a birth defect was 5.8 per cent following natural conception – so in healthy couples where no infertility treatment was needed - 7.2 per cent following IVF and 9.9 per cent after ICSI. Researchers however pointed out that the apparent increase in risk for IVF patients was largely due to other underlying factors, such as maternal age and weight.
The study found that a history of infertility – with or without infertility treatment – was significantly associated with birth defects, however it is unclear whether the increased risk of birth defects following ICSI in particular was due to the technique itself, or because of the quality of sperm used.
So does this mean that ICSI is an unsafe procedure? What’ s important to remember is that any form of conception – natural or via infertility treatment – carries a risk of a defect. And the vast majority of ICSI babies are perfectly healthy. Just like the vast majority of naturally-conceived babies.
The risk highlighted in this report is still small as the researchers themselves have said, nor have they advised people who need ICSI to conceive to not go ahead with the treatment. More research is needed now to look into why this study showed this increased risk. Some believe it is because men who need this sort of treatment may have sperm with damaged DNA.
However the use of ICSI has its place and it should only be used where necessary. At Manchester Fertility, ICSI is only used where the cause of the infertility has been identified as male factor or when conventional IVF has failed. ICSI is designed to overcome male infertility – it is not designed to increase success rates for clinics and if you’re researching infertility treatment be cautious about using a clinic which performs high numbers of ICSI procedures.
Traditional IVF should always be the first option and at Manchester Fertility this will continue to be the case.
If you have any concerns about ICSI, please contact us on 0845 268 2244.
Last updated: 8th May 2012