Study to examine ‘first wave’ of IVF babies conceived using sperm microinjection

Can infertility be passed from father to son?  A new study of young men born to hundreds of couples using sperm microinjection, the most common IVF technique, is aiming to answer that question.

A new study of young men born to hundreds of couples using sperm microinjection, led by Professor Robert McLachlan, aims to answer the question – can infertility be passed from father to son?
Professor Robert McLachlan

The research program, led by Professor Robert McLachlan at Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, is examining whether removing ‘natural selection’ for sperm by injecting a single sperm directly into an egg has any long-term implications for the health and fertility of the child.

More than 700 young men aged 18-24 years who were conceived through ICSI in Victoria and South Australia and their parents are being invited to participate in the study, which is being funded through a two-year $362,570 National Health and Medical Research (NHMRC) Partnership Grant.

The study is bringing together Australian fertility experts to examine the risks and benefits of sperm microinjection, or ICSI, in the first generation of children conceived using this IVF technique.

What is sperm microinjection or Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)?

  • ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) or sperm microinjection is an IVF technique that involves a single sperm being injected directly into an egg (oocyte) using a microneedle.
  • The technique is used in instances where men have an abnormally low sperm count, where the man has a high percentage of abnormal sperm or few healthy sperm, or where the couple has experienced previously low fertilisation rates with standard IVF.
  • It is different from traditional IVF techniques, where the egg (oocyte) is left with thousands of sperm in a controlled environment, and fertilised by one of them.
  • Around 45,000 ICSI procedures are performed each year in Australia and New Zealand, with 90 per cent of cycles performed in Australia. Approximately 65 per cent of assisted reproductive technology cycles use ICSI to achieve fertilisation in Australia and NZ.

“Since the first sperm microinjection treatment was performed 25 years ago in 1992, ICSI has assisted thousands of men experiencing severe infertility to become fathers,” Prof McLachlan says.

“Because ICSI bypasses the need for sperm to be able to swim to, and attach to the egg, it allows the use of sperm that may have otherwise been unable to achieve fertilisation of the egg.

“This raises the question of whether a man’s infertility could be inherited by his sons, and whether a genetic mutation that causes infertility could have health impacts in other ways for his children.”

The program involves researchers from Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Monash University, The University of Melbourne, The University of Adelaide and Andrology Australia.

“This is the largest study to examine the fertility, growth, development and health and wellbeing of sons conceived using this technique using sperm from fathers with severe infertility,” Prof McLachlan says.

The researchers will compare outcomes for young men who were conceived using ICSI due to their father’s infertility, with the outcomes of young men conceived by ICSI for reasons other than male infertility and those of young men who were conceived naturally.

“This study will provide world-leading research data on this most common form of IVF treatment to assisted reproductive treatment units and government, and ensure prospective parents undergoing or considering IVF have access to the latest research information,” Prof McLachlan says.

This research is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Monash IVF Group, Melbourne IVF, the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), the Fertility Society of Australia and Access Australia.

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