The world's largest and longest running study comparing children conceived through IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) with children conceived normally has confirmed that both assisted reproductive techniques are safe and that children conceived through these two techniques are healthy and, in general, doing as well as children conceived by natural means.
The study did find a moderately higher rate of malformations among the ICSI children and this aspect of the study is still being analysed at the time of writing this release. But, the researchers believe that the apparent increase could be due to selection bias in the control group of children.
Results from this international study are being presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
The multi-centre EU supported-study involved researchers and children from five countries - Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Sweden and the UK. It compared 541 ICSI and 440 IVF children with 542 normally conceived children and followed them up to the age of five. It was initiated by University College London paediatrician Dr Alastair Sutcliffe in response to concerns about the safety of assisted reproductive techniques, particularly ICSI.
The study examined the obstetric and neonatal outcomes, malformations, and physical, cognitive, emotional psychological and social development of the children. It also examined the family relationships.
At a news briefing in Madrid, co-investigator Professor Christina Bergh from Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Göteborg, Sweden, said: "This study is the most comprehensive ever done on IVF and ICSI children. Overall, the results are reassuring and lay to rest the fears that have been expressed about the health and welfare of children conceived through IVF and ICSI. It confirms the reassuring findings provided last year by a smaller, less extensive Australian study led by Dr Garth Leslie of Sydney University."
Professor Bergh outlined some of the key findings:
- Birth weight and height at 5 years were similar between the groups and no significant differences were seen in growth;
- Medical illnesses were similar. Hospital admissions for ICSI and IVF children were higher but were still very low with less than 1% admittance for all the groups;
- There were no differences in verbal, performance or total IQ between the groups: girls scored higher than boys in all three groups;
- There were no differences between the groups in either gross or fine motor development;
- There were no differences between the groups in terms of behaviour problems or temperamental difficulties and no differences in measurements of parental stress;
- The rate of malformations was higher in the ICSI group compared to the controls. The reason for this moderately higher malformation rate is not known but may well depend on selection bias for the controls. The study found that, on measures of commitment to work and parenting, ICSI mothers were more committed to their role as parents than were the IVF mothers and the controls: fathers of ICSI children were more committed to parenting than were the controls.
Professor Bergh concluded: "The results for cognitive and motor development were very reassuring and the evidence was that IVF/ICSI families are coping well. We could not identify any strains in marital or parent-child relationships and there were no additional risks of negative socio-emotional impact for either parents or children."