Researchers have found that Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) do not increase the risk of genetic mutations in developing fetuses. Results of the study in mice will be released in this week's journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Although there have now been more than 3 million humans conceived by some form of ART, there have been very few studies of potential genetic abnormalities resulting from these methods. The results of our study in mice indicate that these methods do not lead to any increased risk of mutations," said John McCarrey, UTSA professor of biology.
McCarrey and his graduate student, Patricia Murphey, along with collaborators Drs. Ryuzo Yanagimachi and Yukiko Yamazaki, University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, and Lee Caperton, Alex McMahan and Christi Walter, UTHSC, compared mice produced by at least five different assisted reproductive technologies - in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, pre-implantation culture, intracytoplasmic sperm injection and round spermatid injection - with mice produced by natural reproduction. The scientists reviewed the DNA of each group looking for "point mutations," genetic errors that are known to underlie many genetic diseases in humans.
The analysis was conducted using special mice that have been genetically manipulated to more easily detect point mutations. DNA was extracted from fetuses at mid-gestation, about 10 days past conception.
"We must make conception by assisted reproductive technologies as safe, or even safer than natural conception," said Dr. Yanagimachi.
ART technologies are now responsible for more than one percent of births in the U.S. and most Western countries. In some countries, such as Denmark, the figure is as high as six percent or more.
"This new study indicates that these methods of in vitro conception are not disrupting naturally occurring processes that are required to direct proper embryonic and fetal development," said Walter, UTHSC professor of cellular and structural biology.
It has been 29 years since Louise Brown, the world's first "test-tube baby," was born with the assistance of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Since then, more than three million babies have been born to otherwise infertile couples who have benefited from assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF. As societal trends continue to lead to increasing numbers of couples seeking ART, confirmation of the safety of these methods is critically important. The results of this study should reassure couples that there appears to be no increased risk of increased mutations as a result of ART methods.