When couples are trying to have a baby, one of the things they may overlook is that any and all of their health problems, including some problems that lead to infertility, may be passed along to a baby that is born because of fertility treatments. Scientists say that shouldn’t stop couples from seeking fertility treatment, but it should be something that they are aware of, if only to be able to tell their own children so that they can be aware of it for future purposes.
According to New Scientist, a small population study of men who were conceived in the 1990s using a fertility treatment called ICSI has revealed that they are themselves less fertile, likely in the same manner in which their fathers were.
Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is now a common procedure, and less involved than many fertility treatments. It is used for men who have sperm, but their sperm numbers may be low, or the sperm themselves may not be very mobile, meaning they cannot travel easily through a woman’s reproductive system to make contact with an ovum and cause conception. That’s where ICSI is helpful — it introduces a healthy sperm directly into the woman’s ovum via special instrument, and is used frequently as the means of conception prior to in-vitro fertilization. ICSI was used in about half of IVF cases in Britain in 2013, and is a very common procedure in the United States as well.
According to Fox News, lead researcher Andre Van Steirteghem, of Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, says that young men conceived in this manner are much more likely to have problems with sperm count and mobility. The study compared 54 adult men who were conceived using ICSI with 57 adult men whose parents conceived naturally, without the aid of ICSI. The researchers discovered that those men conceived with ICSI had almost half the sperm concentration of the control group, and a two-times lower count of motile sperm, meaning their sperm counts were lower, and the ability of the sperm to move properly was much lower. This would indicate the likelihood of difficulty in these men fathering a baby in a natural way. Researchers said the study results were nothing that was shocking or unexpected, since children inherit most genetic traits from parents, and sperm count and quality would be no different.
“These findings are not unexpected. Before ICSI was carried out, prospective parents were informed that it may well be that their sons may have impaired sperm like their fathers.”
However, he said, most couples went ahead with the procedure, thinking that if they conceive a son who wants children, he himself could utilize ICSI, or perhaps their son would not even wish to become a father. Adam Balen of the British Fertility Society says that they still may be able to father children without treatment, assuming they are affected — the study showed that approximately one-third of those who had been conceived through ICSI had normal sperm count and motility. But even those with impaired sperm can sometimes father a child naturally. Higher sperm counts make pregnancy more likely, but lower sperm counts do not make it impossible.
These results show a correlation, which is not causation. Researchers said that the findings were no reason for parents to decide against ICSI, but are something to be aware of. There is a treatment that could be a solution for their sons if they, in turn, suffer low fertility, so it is not a situation that would greatly affect quality of life or ethical issues sometimes encountered when deciding whether or not to risk passing on a defective gene to children. Nick Macklon of the University of Southampton said it is simply something to be aware of and take into consideration.
“It justifies our cautious approach. It isn’t any cause for alarm.”
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