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Health Insight October 2002: IVF with a difference

  The first British woman to become pregnant using her own frozen eggs has given birth to a healthy baby girl. Thirty-six-year-old Helen Perry, from Ludlow in Shropshire turned to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) after discovering that she had blocked fallopian tubes. But she and her husband decided against standard IVF treatment as they are Jehovah’s Witnesses and consider it unacceptable to produce embryos, only one or two of which will be used and the rest destroyed. Egg freezing gets around this ethical obstacle, but has been little used because of safety fears and because it is difficult to do and has a lower success rate. The birth of the baby from a frozen egg was welcomed both by infertility specialists and religious groups that normally oppose IVF. Both see the development as an important breakthrough for women facing cancer treatment that could make them infertile. Professor Lord Winston, a leading expert on IVF, however, said that there were concerns about the long-term effects. ‘Work in mice has shown that chromosomes which carry the genes can be broken up by egg freezing and that is why many clinics have not gone down this route,’ he said.

There are also worries about the safety of fertility techniques that use frozen embryos. A major study is to be carried out to assess whether children born using artificial fertility techniques face health problems in later life. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is to consider how best to examine the long-term effects on children conceived using IVF techniques. In total, 68,000 IVF children have been born since the technique was pioneered in 1978 – it has not been decided how many, if any, of these children will be studied. The HFEA and the MRC have established a joint working party, chaired by senior epidemiologist Professor Catherine Peckham, to decide how to carry out the research.

Source: The Times 12th October, BBC Online

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