Babies conceived using assisted reproduction technology could be more prone to certain rare genetic conditions than children conceived naturally, a new UK study suggests. Researchers based in Birmingham and Cambridge studied 149 babies with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (BWS), a rare genetic condition characterised by overgrowth of various body tissues and an increased risk of particular cancers. They found that six of the children were conceived using IVF techniques, an incidence around four times higher than that in the general population.
BWS results from errors in 'genetic imprinting', a process in which certain genes act differently according to whether they are inherited from the father or the mother. Another rare imprinting disorder known as Angelman syndrome has also recently been linked with assisted reproduction, suggesting that part of the IVF procedure could occasionally disrupt imprinting. Study author Dr Wolf Reik, of the Babraham Institute in Cambridge said: 'Imprinting is set when the sperm or egg is produced and we believe that IVF and ICSIinterfere with the process just after fertilisation, increasing the risk that a child will develop Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome'.
The new study, published in the Journal of Medical Genetics, confirms previous results reported by US researchers last year, following a study of 65 children with BWS. They concluded that babies born through assisted reproduction technology had a six-fold increased risk of developing the condition, but stressed the need for further research. The latest study also called for increased monitoring of IVF births for genetic conditions. A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said: 'This has to be put into perspective. It was a small study and looked at a rare disease. I don't think parents should be too concerned'.