Are Adults Conceived Using Assisted Reproductive Technology At Higher Risk for Health Problems?

by | Sep 19, 2019
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Background

The option to conceive a child using assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in vitro fertilization (IVF), became available in the late 1970s. This means that the first children to be born following conceptions using ART are now in their forties. Early on, ART techniques were limited. A common technique at the time was gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), although it is not frequently used today. Since then, many techniques – including in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) – have become available. There are natural concerns about whether ART, including PGT, increases health risks in the resulting pregnancies, as well as later in life when these individuals become adults.

A 2019 Australian research study published in Fertility & Sterility, the journal affiliated with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, attempted to answer this question by studying adults (now in their twenties) who were conceived using ART. They looked at several aspects of their lives, including health. It’s important to note that the individuals in this study were born prior to the wide availability of PGT. The study focused on individuals conceived using GIFT or IVF.

Study Participants

Australia has experience with ART going back to the ‘70s. In this study, the authors re-contacted individuals conceived using ART, all of whom were participants in an earlier study when they were younger. After reaching out to 531 of these participants, they ended up including 193 interested participants: 147 IVF, 43 GIFT, 3 unknown. They also included 83 interested participants who were not conceived using ART as a control group. Participants were 22-35 years old.

Study Methods

Participants completed a questionnaire about health, alcohol consumption, smoking use, and other aspects of their daily lives. They also indicated if they had specific health conditions and if they saw a healthcare professional, or took medications, for them.

Participants traveled to Melbourne to have a detailed medical exam with a blinded healthcare professional, so he or she did not know the participant’s ART status. Participants also had medical tests to look for signs of some health problems, like coronary artery disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease.

The research group then took all the data and measured different aspects across groups, including a quality of life score.

Results and Conclusions

After comparing the participants (separated by biological sex), the study found “…no marked differences…” between the groups in terms of health issues and quality of life scores. In fact, quality of life scores were higher in the group conceived using ART. 

Limitations

The study size was small and the participation rate was low. The authors wondered if individuals conceived using ART were more likely to participate because they were more motivated to contribute than those who were not conceived using ART, or perhaps came from families that were more able to travel or otherwise manage the study logistics. Additionally, if the study indeed included individuals conceived using PGT, they were not clearly identified as a separate group. Therefore, it’s not possible to draw conclusions about how PGT itself may impact health during adulthood for individuals conceived this way. 

 What Does All of This Mean?

Bottom Line: Even with its limitations, the study is encouraging – in part because PGT requires IVF, defined as ART in this study.

While this study has limitations in how it can be applied to parents using PGT today, it is still promising. There are natural concerns about the health of adults conceived using ART, even if many studies to date on the health implications of individuals conceived using ART, IVF, and PGT are fairly limited. But this study may be a sign that not all of these concerns are valid, at least in some circumstances. More study is needed to address specific ART techniques and health risks, and hopefully more study will come.

Deepti is a highly skilled writer and editor with medical communications and marketing experience, which blends with her 20+ years of clinical acumen as a certified genetic counselor in the U.S. and Canada. Deepti has an active consulting business and is an engaged member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, most recently serving as a 2018-2020 Director at Large. In her downtime, you’ll find Deepti poring over cookbooks, facing down superhero quizzes from her sons, or writing about her family’s foodie gene on her blog.

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