More than 60,000 babies were born in the United States in 2009 as a result of 146,000 intravenous fertility (or IVF) treatments. About three-quarters of these attempts were made via a fertility treatment called ICSI, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection. But new research has linked this procedure to an increased risk for birth defects.


ICSI is used when male infertility is the blockade to conception but it is also commonly used to increase the chances that at least some embryos will be created from an IVF attempt. In fact, many clinics use it in all cases. This new research shows that ICSI might also increase the risk for birth defects.


The study, published online on May 5 in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated records for roughly 303,000 babies conceived "naturally" and 6,163 conceived via assisted reproduction in Australia from 1986 through 2002. These records were compared with records on birth defects — heart, spinal or urinary tract defects, limb abnormalities, and cleft palate — diagnosed in children by age 5. They found that babies conceived via ICSI — in which a sperm is injected into the egg — were more likely to suffer from these birth defects. About 10 percent of babies born via ICSI had birth defects compared to 6 percent of those conceived without fertility treatments.


So now the big question is this: Is it the technique itself that increases the birth defect risk or is it because the sperm used are damaged in a way that was causing the infertility in the first place?


Looks like they'll need a few more studies to figure that one out.


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