Unsettled questions trail IVF's success

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Science  15 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6198, pp. 744-746
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6198.744

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In vitro fertilization (IVF) and associated techniques are a medical success story, with more than 5 million apparently healthy babies born this way. The known risks of these technologies are relatively small: a slight increase in pregnancy complications, preterm birth, and low birth weight, and possibly an increased risk of birth defects. But as researchers learn more about the sensitivity of early embryos, they have begun to wonder if the manipulations of IVF may have additional subtle effects that appear as children grow. Animal studies hint that people conceived this way may be at higher risk of age-related disorders, such as heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension. A few studies of these children suggest subtle cognitive differences, but sample sizes are small. And the track record is short: The oldest IVF baby, Louise Brown, is just 36. Meanwhile, the multibillion-dollar IVF industry favors ever-increasing efficiency in procedures, which in some cases may mean more prolonged artificial conditions for embryos. To inform parents accurately about risks, some researchers argue that they need more and larger studies.