Winston warns: IVF risks unknown
Dr Kirsty Horsey, Progress Educational Trust
11 September 2003

[BioNews, London] British fertility specialist Professor Lord Robert Winston has warned that more research into some fertility techniques associated with IVF needs to take place, in order to ensure the safety of patients and their children. Speaking at the British Association Festival of Science in Salford, Manchester earlier this week, he said that certain techniques ought to be better investigated, as they may be the cause of long-term health problems in IVF children.

Many fertility techniques, he claimed, have been introduced to clinics before enough research on their potential risks has been done. This leads to a situation in which couples seeking treatment are under-informed about the consequences of going ahead. Many concerns have simply been put aside, he said, because of the commercial nature of IVF. When asked whether he thought this meant IVF patients and children were part of a mass experiment, he said 'that's exactly what I'm saying'.

Professor Winston highlighted embryo freezing which, he said, may cause mutations in an embryo before its implantation into the uterus. He also said that research should be undertaken on the use of ovary-stimulating drugs, to assess their potential risk of causing chromosomal damage to the eggs produced. Both of these techniques, he claimed, may possibly be the cause of 'some of the phenomena which are not currently understood' in IVF. He added 'whilst the early reports of IVF were wholly reassuring in terms of the abnormality rate, there is now a lot of data out there which suggests that some procedures actually, under certain circumstances, might be quite dangerous'.

In response to Professor Winston's comments, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which licenses and monitors IVF clinics, said that it was currently collaborating with the Medical Research Council on IVF research and safety. Confirming the partnership in October 2002, the HFEA said that a working group had been established, in response to various studies that expressed concern about IVF procedures and long-term health, to conduct a programme of research looking at potential health effects of IVF and related procedures. Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, said that the working group hopes to 'complete its review and decide on areas for additional research by the end of 2003'.
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Reproduced from BioNews with permission, a web- and email-based source of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and human genetics, published by Progress Educational Trust.

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