Looking at almost 40,000 sperm donations in the UK, researchers
found that women were just as likely to have a baby using sperm from
40-year-old donors as that from younger men.
The study found that for women under 34, the chance of
having a baby stayed at around 30 percent for those using IVF, and around ten
to 12 percent for those using donor insemination, regardless of the age of the
Previous studies have found that children with older fathers
are more likely to have birth defects and develop conditions like autism and
schizophrenia (see BioNews 318, 652, and 744). But this study focuses on sperm
donors, who must pass rigorous health checks before they are allowed to donate.
'Our study shows that we are good at selecting the right
sperm donors with the right sperm quality — and that's why we found no
difference in live birth rate despite the increasing age of sperm donors', said
Dr Choudhary's team began to study the effect of sperm donor
age when they noticed that the average age of donors shot up from 26 to 35 once
a law was passed meaning sperm donors could no longer remain anonymous in 2005.
In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
recommends that sperm donors should be under 41 years of age, while the upper
limit in Australia is 45. The European Society of Human Reproduction and
Embryology, at whose annual conference the results were reported, recommends
that sperm donors are under 50 years old.
Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the
University of Sheffield, said that the maximum sperm donor age
limit in the UK had been set because of worries to health of any resulting children, and
that this was still an issue. 'I would be worried about raising the age limit
for sperm donors to 45 because of the possible effects on the health of
children', he said.
Dr Pacey estimated that only five out of every 100 men who
applied to be a sperm donor would make it past the medical tests required. But
he suggested that as the need for more sperm donors grows, clinics' standards
may be dropping.
'We are selecting on the basis of sperm quality, and I hope
people continue to do that. I get little whispers around the place, that as the
pressure to recruit donors is increasing, because we've got so few, people are
not adhering to the sperm quality [guidelines], and that is a worry', he said.