Genetics Study: Will IVF Babies Face Health Problems Later in Life?

By Andrew Moseman | February 22, 2010 3:01 pm

infant babyLouise Brown, the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization, will be turning 32 this year, and most people born through IVF are still younger than 30. While the technique has become commonplace for would-be parents struggling with fertility problems, doctors note that the long-term effects of the procedure still aren’t certain. Now, some scientists are saying they see slight differences in the DNA expression of people born via IVF, and that it’s possible they could be at higher risk for conditions like cancer or diabetes later in life.

Says lead researcher Carmen Sapienza said “By and large these children are just fine, it’s not like they have extra arms or extra heads, but they have a small risk of undesirable outcomes” [The Guardian]. Rather, the team found a very subtle impact. In 75 IVF babies and 100 naturally conceived ones, they examined 700 genes that particularly interested the researchers because they are linked to fat cell development, insulin signaling, and other functions associated with diseases for which people tend to be at higher risk as they age. The scientists checked DNA methylation, a modification to DNA which affects gene expression, and found that 5 to 10 percent of IVF babies had abnormal patterns of methylation.

Sapienza’s team published the study in October in Human Molecular Genetics, but his work is picking up attention after he spoke at the American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego.

Studying the health forecast for IVF babies is crucial because they tend to have lower birth weights than traditionally born babies. That could spell trouble ahead, because low-birth-weight babies often have long-term health problems. They’re more likely to be obese, to have diabetes, and to have hypertension when they’re 50, for example [ScienceNOW]. And because no IVF-born person is currently older than 31, there’s no data to predict what health patterns they will have as they age.

Conscious of a strong reactions by parents of IVF children, Sapienza stressed that the work is neither an attack on IVF nor any kind of proof that IVF babies will be unhealthier than other people as they age. But, he says, one must ask the questions. If it turns out that children who were conceived by IVF had a higher risk of, say, colon cancer, he says, it would be useful to be able to tell them to get screened earlier [ScienceNOW].

However, one researcher is publicly concerned about the overuse of a specific kind of IVF called Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). That’s one of its creators, Andre Van Steirteghem. Also speaking at the AAAS meeting, Van Steirteghem warned that his creation was being overused, becoming the dominant IVF method in many hospitals. He says shouldn’t be employed in cases where regular IVF techniques could suffice: “We have to see what will come out in the future, and long term follow up is extremely important, but yes, ICSI has been overused” [The Telegraph]. ICSI makes it possible for men who ordinarily would be sterile to conceive, but carries a slightly higher risk of health problems down the road than regular IVF.

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Katharine

    I find IVF somewhat offensive when there are plenty of children out there who could be adopted for much less.

  • Ian

    @1, I agree although cost should never be a deciding factor in having children. Furthermore it’s the use of the phrase ‘screening’ which horrifies me.

    Something not mentioned here is the recent awareness of passing the parents’ infertility onto their children if conceived through IVF.

  • Alexis

    The “just adopt” argument comes up in post #1!

    1) There aren’t as many adoptable children as you think. Many kids in the foster system are not available for adoption; their goal is family reunification. There are very few babies available, which is why so many children are adopted from abroad. There is no way for the adoption/foster system to absorb all the couples who undergo fertility treatment.

    2) Adoption is not cheap.

    3) Adoption and fostering are things you do for their own sake, not as a replacement for having a baby. They come with their own set of challenges.

    The parents I know who adopted went through at least as much heartbreak as those who did IVF.

  • Andrew

    Go ahead and adopt if that’s your preference – I want children that are truly mine. I could care less what the cost is.

  • Justin

    @Katherine, You can be offended all you want but people want their OWN biological child. As alexis said, the adoption process in this country isn’t as easy as people think, and it actually costs about the same as IVF.

    Your extreme view on human adoption and birth is the exact same as most people view dogs. “Stop breeding dogs, just adopt”. Which is very true with a dog. There are thousands of dogs put to sleep in each state everyday. But with a human, that doesn’t even make sense.

  • Nelson

    My wife and I went thru the IVF and we were successful. We werent looking for it but thru some miracle we had beautiful healthy triplets. All I’m saying is that if you could have your own babies it is going to always be a more complete feeling vs adoption because its your “own biological child” as Justin stated. Thats just how it is! For those that do adopt, more power to you, you’re doing a great thing and you probably have a heart as pure as Jesus.

  • Lara Jean

    I have a problem with people implanting multiple embryos only to “selectively” choose which ones get to live…That is just plain wrong. Only implant as many eggs as you want children. Otherwise it is just morally wrong!

    Having adopted three children and having a botched 4th adoption it is very heartbreaking. So was my miscarriage and tubal pregnancy.

    Both processes are expensive and emotional….

    Let me tell you my adopted children are mine with all of my heart, and to imply I would love a natural child more is wrong….I feel complete with my children and complete in the Lord.

    If I could do it any way I chose I would choose to adopt all over again vs. having natural children. These are the children God gave me…

    With IVF seems to much like forcing what God may not have intended…


  • kathleen

    I am an IVF baby i was born in 1982 for most of my life i have been sick for different things. I cannot find my doner witch voices concerns for my health. I have two health children but would like to know my medical history.

  • Lara Jean


    I am sorry for your health problems that you are having….Your natural mother has not been able to help with your search at all?

    I don’t know all of the legalities of IVF….I think the “donor” can remain anonymous right?

    I am sorry if that causes you any pain or difficulty…

    I am glad your children are healthy…

    Maybe someone here can offer you advise on finding more info…


  • Rachel

    A very controversial subject. I’m not clear on how IVF babies are different from regularly conceived ones. Is there really a different cellular distinction? We are also discussing genetics on our blog. We are exhibiting a study about the development of obesity and diabetes and how these conditions can be linked to a single unregulated gene in the brain that causes anxiety. We would be interesting in hearing your comments on this topic.

  • KongolaRules

    I’m an IVF baby and Im 22 years old, I’ve had no health problems whatsoever, but with the oldest IVF baby only being 31 years old, one wonders what the future might hold?
    I’m currently doing a honours in genetics, and reading all this information can be quite worrying sometimes…we havent really unraveled complex diseases such as cancer yet and no one can say for sure that we are at a higher risk than other people, there are just to many factors playing a role here
    I’m quite interested to see what research in this field will provide us with.

  • San Jose

    After trying for the last 8 years to concieve and going through IUI and couple IVF processes finally there seems to be a positive sign with IVF. This could be a little early for me to be joyful as we had positive sign once before. I was a little apprehensive about the health risks posed by IVF babies, hence stumbled upon this blog. All I want is that my wife and baby remain heathly later.
    I was also thinking about adoption if IVF didn’ work. I love kids and probably would equally love an adopted or a concieved baby. I guess with a conceived baby we are more certain of the characteristics they inherit from us, rest everything is exactly the same. Just a thought!

  • Lara Jean

    San Jose,

    Funny people always tell me that me and my children look alike. They were born in another country…LOL

    My children, esp. my oldest child have a lot of me and my hubby’s manerisms etc. They say that my oldest and I are carbon copies….

    Best Wishes for being a parent. It’s awesome!


  • rxhase

    KongolaRules and kathleen:

    when were you concieved and do you think time has something to do w/IVF?

  • Natural Birth Education

    All persons, however they were conceived, have a legal right to know their natural birth parents for genetic background information. If everything was done decently and in order, what would the natural parent(s) have to hide?

  • Kay

    I went through my first IVF in January and now we are expecting a baby girl anyday. IVF is an alternative for couples suffering from infertility as is adoption. Choosing one over the other doesn’t make the person wrong or selfish. People who choose to judge are the selfish. It’s a choice only the couple suffering from infertility can make…no one else.
    My girlfriend of many years went through IVF as well with unsucessful outcomes and decided to adopt. She went through the worst nightmare applying for adoption in states were the biological parents can change their minds up to 3-6mths after the adoption process. She also had to make a “scrapbook” page of herself and husband to see if the biological parents felt they measured up for the adoption. They finally decided to travel to Russia to adopt a baby girl. Adoption is just as expensive and emotionally draining as IVF. One does not trump the other.

  • Nicole

    I have a biological child and an adopted child. My husband became infertile after intense chemotherapy treatments. Justin says, “people want their OWN biological child.” My boys are my OWN and not one of them is loved more or less!

  • Molly

    I just wanted to second Nicole’s assertion. My husband and I have twins through IVF and a baby through international adoption. All three of our children feel equally our own. And I feel grateful each day that they are in our lives. If one is not an adoptive parent, I wouldn’t expect him or her to understand.

  • iain

    Surely it would have been better to let the first few IVF children grow to adulthood and monitor their progress. The scientists were taking a terrible risk, which luckily may not turn out as bad as it could have been, but as usual, they were so sure they now knew everything, that they went ahead full tilt. Crick said, on revealing the helical structure of DNA: “The secret of life is just chemistry.” He had no idea how complicated it was, or the stunning engineering involved.

    The scientists’ view is that Nature is witless and dumb and ready to be directed by them. But they didn’t even know then about epigenetics, an entire layer of DNA activity which works throughout our lifespan. So we have no idea yet what the scond and third generations of IVF will have to deal with; all this haste to show off our cleverness might prove a little premature in the end.

  • Emsk

    I am 23 and was born through IVF, raised by my biological parents. I have often wondered what the future holds for me health wise but so far have been perfectly fine. I sometimes imagine scenarios where IVF people suddenly start keeling over at a certain age and we find out that our life spans are much shorter than normally concieved people (or the opposite and we live for 140 years!)

    There’s also the fear that the nature of my conception will become a distinguishing feature of who I am, such as declaration on identification and aparthied style segregation, but I do have an overactive imagination.

  • josh

    be rest assured you are ok as every normal human because the more you start to worry about your birth, you start having major health breakdown. think of this, don’t non-IVF babies get health complications too. so why shouldn’t IVF once. either IVF born baby or natural born baby, their will always be some health issues, it’s nothing special my friend. live life and enjoy it while you live

  • josh

    well, for all babies born via IVF congratulation. IVF is no much different from natural conception, it basically mimics natural conception process. the major different is the involvement of a third party in IVF and the fact that the procedure is done externally. as for ICSI, i dont think there is much complication to it as against C.IVF and also natural conception because truth be told, we are not GOD so we cant really tell what form of sperm cell (either good or poor) does the insemination in natural conception or C.IVF. or can u tell? scientist are just instruments in GOD hands to make life easy and stop equating them with GOD.

  • Abi

    Im so glad someone else feels the same! Im 20 and an IVF baby and I do wonder what the future holds….im convinced we will all turn green or something haha only kidding! (i hope)

    Anyway I guess all we can do is live life to the full no-one on earth knows how long they have got…IVF or not so lets not worry just make sure we follow the path in life that we want to and live with no regrets


    Oh and to all those who ‘find IVF somewhat offensive’ are you at all aware of how offensive YOU are??????? Telling people like me i basically should never of been born?!?!?! Stop judging other people, adoption may be the answer for some and not for others its not your right to comment.

    And especially to all those who think that IVF is ‘against Gods plans’ :
    1) why would he enable us to discover IVF and sucessfully create life from it if it was not what he wanted

    2) im pretty sure telling people God doesnt want you (because you were conceived via IVF) or that you shouldnt exsist is the least christian thing I have ever heard

    3) God forbid anyone you know one day desperatly wants to bring life into this world but for one reason or another cannot naturally conceive or adopt/foster

    4) My life may of been created in a different way from yours but at least I have one!?!?

  • Jenni

    I am 18 and an ivf baby and couldn’t agree more with you!!
    The future of our health my be uncertain but isn’t everyone’s?!
    Plus it is the most offensive comment to be told that you weren’t Gods plan just because of the way in which you were conceived!

  • Justin

    Wouldnt you rather have an ivf child then another 16 year old mother? Just saying sometimes morality is skewed by the perception of being able to produce why would we blame the curtious parents for waiting versus the immature biologically prepared to concieve offspring?

  • Emogene Benya

    What i don’t realize is actually how you are not actually much more well-liked than you may be now. You’re very intelligent. You realize therefore significantly relating to this subject, produced me personally consider it from numerous varied angles. Its like men and women aren’t fascinated unless it’s one thing to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs outstanding. Always maintain it up!

  • abc

    I donot agree with the statement that IVF babies tend to be more sick than normal babies.I have baby girl through IVF process and she is quite healthy and happy baby.Doesnot apply to all IVF babies.depends on the eggs have been selected during ivf process….if healthy eggs are selected and most better embryo is placed then chances are less for having weak and sick baby through IVF.

  • neepa

    do not make people scared by leaving negative comments about ivf babies.I have healthy and happy baby through IVF depends on th eggs have been selected during ivf process.most healthiest embryo gives u a healthy do not be affraid…does not apply to all IVF babies.

  • Sara

    Was about to start IVF but hubby and I read one of the legal docs to sign and it stated that we understand the risk of disease transmission in the use of human blood products used in the laboratory for embryo culture/sperm preparation. Spoke to the clinic and asked if I could use my own blood rather than donor blood – was told no – no clinic in Australia will allow you to use your own blood since it is easier for the clinic to buy it in, however the IVF couple who are paying big $$$ have to take all the risks. Risks during egg collection, risks of disease transmission, risk of human error like wrong sperm with wrong egg (has happenned) etc. Some diseases cannot be screened. We wanted IUI but clinics push IVF + ICSI and we are faced with do nothing or take the risk!

  • Cindy

    I have a beautiful and healthy 2 year old daughter conceived through ICSI. Whilst going through the rigorous and emotional process, my religious mother told me that IVF ‘ not from God’. Well, to all you religious freaks who frown upon people seeking help to conceive:
    * if it is ‘…not from God’, my daughter would not be here.
    * there are hurdles in everyday life that we must overcome – IVF is just one of them!!
    And just to open up another can of worms – I know plenty of religeous people who have gone through chemotherapy to treat cancer (my dad being one of them). Tell me ‘…is that from God?’ Because it is not a natural process either……

  • Madilyn

    I congratulate anyone who has been through the IVF process or going through it right now. It is amazing how we put our body through so much and put ourselves through risks that are out of our control to just one day, maybe we can hold our own beautiful baby and watch them grow with our very own genetics.

    I think people must remember that your own belief, is just that, your own belief. If you have a God of your own, then well done.

    My partner and I are doing ICSI because an accident left him a quadriplegic. Of-course, IVF is not the way we want our baby to be conceived, but everyone knows life does not go according to plan.

    I am having my eggs collected tomorrow and my partner, his sperm, so to all those who believe in making your own dreams come true, wish us luck!!

  • Curious

    My husband and I will begin ICSI in 2 months and we are curious for more information regarding adults conceived through ICSI. From my findings it looks like the oldest child should be about 20 years old now. Has there been any studies done on post-pubesant ICSI babies? I read a study completed in 2006 where ICSI children were only 8yrs old at the time but I would like to understand how they are thriving now. Any insight would be helpful. It is great to hear success stories through IVF and IVF with ICSI. Good luck to everyone beginning this journey! No one knows what God’s plan is, so please don’t speak for it.

  • savitri

    IVF is a blessing and those babies born using it is a miracle. So god bless them with health and strenght.

  • James

    I am an IVF baby, so I don’t think that it is incorrect for people to conceive via IVF. I am perfectly fine, and what is natural in this world? Everything has been touched by man. Everyone has a right to be alive, so if there is a chance to conceive through IVF; then I see no problem. And good luck to all those trying to conceive, I wish you all the best.

  • Sal

    I myself being 25 and hubby being 30 have to undergo ivf or iui in a couple of months and i will put myself through whatever i have to as long as i can have a lil angel or 2! to say don’t force something that’s not a part of God’s plan…you don’t know what his plans are for you..some people aren’t meant to be conceived naturally..God wouldnt have allowed us to create the technology and given the doctors the intelligence to procreate assisted if he only wanted naturally conceived children! for those of you going through this I pray for you that God may bless you with the miracle you deserve! i myself in my opinion wouldnt be able to adopt because i want my child to be biologically mine..Bless you all..

  • Deniece

    What an intersting topic! I was adopted by a loving family at 8 months old. I have a two children, one I conceived the all natural way and one with IVF. I would have only considered adoption if the childs biological family (parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles) would not be involved in the child’s life at least until the child was an adult. There is no way to guarantee that, so for me, adoption is not a viable option. Not to mention, that my husband wanted is OWN bilogical child. I met my biological family when I was 14 and I have grown to love most of them (including my biological mother). I was fortunate that everything worked out nicely. This is not always the case. I may do IVF again when my daughter turns 3. She’s 18 months old now.

  • joy

    IVF children are special gift and miracle from GOD. I have an IVF daugther who is almost 13yrs. She is very healthly, extremely smart, honor roll student and with so much talented and loved by every one. May the Lord bless all you IVF babies who wrote on this blog. love you guys

  • patricia

    We started the adoption process in the States a year ago. We are still in the process and we have been told it will be at least 2 years before we get a child (0-5yrs old). However, some of the requirements are to have almost a room waiting for a child, when you do not know how many times the state is going to allow the birth parents to change their minds.
    We are now expecting twins through IVF We are still with the adoption process, and financially, they have been equally expensive. Emotionally, in our case, the adoption process has been heart broken. They even let you meet some of the kids in foster care, and there is nothing we can do because of some laws and regulations that do not look up for the best interest of the child.
    Only people that find themselves in this situation can understand both IVF and Adoption.
    In our case, IVF would have never been considered if the adoption process would have been easy, friendly and effective.

  • Jack

    @1 Katherine, is rather naive.

    My wife does not know anyone she is blood related to, and for her this is something she has longed for. Despite being adopted herself having her own child who is blood related meant a lot to her.

  • Rahul

    Guys, stay assured this is as natural as anything else is. I wonder why people say its not natural. If a person gets heart attack and is being saved by doctor. Does he has the right to live..(GOD wants to kill him/her, only doctor is saving)? If he has the right to live than IVF kids are GOD’s GIFT. Soon i will be a father of IVF baby and so proud of it.

  • lauren

    i have been doing a debate on IVF and i believe its a gift… just like a “normal” pregnancy. its still a biological child and grows inside the biological mother. parenting is a joy any person should experience. and with adopting, they may not be their mother or father, but they are the child’s mum and dad.

  • Kat

    My hubbie and I are married 5 years and unfortunately we haven’t been successful at concieving a child. We have been on a waiting list for ivf and we are currently at the top of it do we are starting the process but I am having so many doubts. I am so unsure whether to continue with the process or to leave it in gods hands and c what his path is for me. I am so many sleepless nights about the moral side of it to me it is so mechanical and doesn’t bring the love of husband and wife into it. So confused about the whole thing.

  • Rahul

    hey kat,
    Dont be confused, It will have more love and affection than normal child. We just got our sweet little baby girl 4 days back. She is absolutely adorable and just like any other child i have seen. Its better to go for IVF than to stay childless or adopt. Dont stop the process of IVF if you have started. Sooner is always better for IVF. Age is the biggest factor for IVF sucess. Medical help is not mechanical, just as a brain or heart surgery this is also a medical help some people need. All the best…

  • Ritzi

    Yes this is a very important topic for all of us, especially for those couples who are desperately considering to go ahead with IVF or other procedures similar to IVF. Firstly I am single, 53, never had children. Yet at 16 I was desperate to have a child but I refused to have a child without an appropriate partner. Those days teenage women started to become single parents. A trend that started. Comments above, I believe everyone needs to accept each others’ opinion even if they don’t agree. No need to attack either side of this topic. The issue is….. THE FUTURE OF THE CHILDREN BORN FROM IVF ETC…..and…..THE DECISION YOU HAVE MADE….THE PARENTS HAVE TO ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCE OF THE FUTURE OF THEIR CHILD. I too could have chosen to do the same, but I have always thought first for the sake of the child’s future. I decided (and was given the ‘GRACE’ from GOD TO ACCEPT AND BECOME MORE HUMBLE AND GIVE UP MY OWN WANTS AND NEEDS. I now am very content and happy giving UNCONDITIONAL LOVE TO THOSE CHILDREN WHO REALLY NEED LOVE. I DO PRAY FOR THOSE WHO MADE THEIR DECISION TO HAVE IVF AND PRAY THERE WILL NOT BE COMPLICATIONS IN THE FUTURE FOR THEIR CHILDREN. IT IS A HUGE RISK TO TAKE, SEEING NO ONE IS ABLE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE. WE ALL NEED TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND, NOT JUDGE AND REALLY HEAR BOTH SIDES. I HEAR SO MANY PEOPLE SAYING TOO MANY THINGS THAT THEY HAVEN’T GIVEN ALOT OF THOUGHT…..PLEASE I BEG YOU ALL, WHO READ MY PLEAS…..THINK OF THE CHILDREN AND THEIR FUTURE AND PUT YOUR OWN NEEDS AND WANTS ASIDE FIRST AND THINK IT OUT AS IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AS AN ADULT. WE ARE ALL ALLOWED TO AGREE TO DISAGREE……SORRY IF I DON’T AGREE BUT I AM ALLOWED TO GIVE MY OPINION AND AM NOT JUDGING ANYONE as many are stating others who give a difference of opinion…..WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS CRAZY CRAZY WORLD…… AND PLEASE REMEMBER DOCTORS WANT TO MAKE BIG DOLLARS (of course there are the genuine ones …….JUST MAKE SURE ITS THE RIGHT DECISION AS YOU ARE REALLY PLAYING WITH FIRE FOR YOUR FAMILIES FUTURE…. beside the children.

  • Tangy

    Ritzi, I hope you blog on other sites praying everyone reads how to NOT get pregnant naturally… those are the kids you need to worry about, young mothers, no fathers, drugs, child neglect and abuse… All from having them naturally… oops!
    IVF babies are choosen and most parents are willing, ready and able to care for them… I had a beautiful baby girl 2 1/2 years ago via IVF.. She’s healthly and all she knows is love… which unfortuantely in more than we can say about a lot of kids.
    I wish all of you the best… If God places a child in your life, love him or her with all of your being…

  • albertG

    The most important aspect of issues like IVF is honest presentation of information. I sat next to a young woman on a flight who was suffering from severe back problems which were very heartbreaking to see. She told me that her and her brother both suffered from this problem and explained that they were both born through IVF and that it was a known issue..

    She was a very smart and nice person, but in terrible discomfort. I’m not commenting on the morality of IVF, I’m more thinking about how we tend to accept a scientific breakthrough as perfect and consequence free. We’ve seen miracle cures for everything from cancer to heart disease. But, we’ve also read the warning labels on bottles that tell us of the numerous potential side effects. We can make a decision as an individual to take an associated risk, but making that choice for a potential human is and should be a serious issue made with all known facts – both positives and risks.


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