IVF and autism

Submitted by Shelby D Burns Fri 06/18/2010

Family IVF may be solving one problem which creating another suggests a new – and likely to be controversial – study from Tel Aviv University. Dr. Ditza Zachor of Tel Aviv University ‘s Sackler School of Medicine reported a relationship between IVF and mild to moderate cases of autism. Her research disclosed that 10.5% of the 461 children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder were conceived using IVF. This is significantly higher than the 3.5% autism rate in the general population. But what is the relationship? The study can’t draw any definitive conclusions. There are many factors which could be influencing the diagnosis. More of the IVF/autistic babies experienced low birth weight and prematurity than the general population. Also the mothers (and fathers) tend to be older. Recent studies suggest paternal age has a strong link to autistic spectrum diagnoses. Future studies need to tease those conditions and see if they are related to each other or the IVF before assertions about IVF risks can be made. One thought is that there could be something happening in the “imprinting,” a biochemical procedure during cell division which determines which genes will be selected or “expressed” in the embryo. Research into epigenetics (the study of chages in gene expression that occur without a change in the DNA sequence) suggest that anomalies may be caused by imprinting abnormalities introduced while the embryo is in outside the body, in a laboratory environment. Now that there is some awareness of the possibilities, health practitioners may be able to offer advise and alternatives. Some parents who are leaning toward IVF as a quick solution could be encouraged to take more time to get pregnant naturally or use some other ART. “Many couples choose this procedure, and they need to know whether there is a risk of autism,” concludes Dr. Zachor. The majority of children born from IVF are quite healthy however and the option should not be taken off the table.

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