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IVF may be a risk factor for adult onset diabetes

Scientists believe children conceived through could have an increased likelihood to develop Type II Diabetes later in life after discovering mice conceived through were more prone to develop the disease than those conceived naturally.

As the first baby celebrates her 35th birthday this year, is beginning to come of age with both uptake and success rates in Australia amongst some of the highest in the world. While there have been many studies into the short-term outcomes for babies, there has been very little research on the long term health effects into adulthood.

Associate Professor Leonie Heilbronn, Miaoxin Chen PhD, Dr Linda Wu, Professor Gary Wittert, Professor Rob Norman and Dr Rebecca Robker are researching the metabolic consequences of hormonal stimulation and embryo culture on later health.

Working at the Robinson Institute at the University of Adelaide, the team of researchers has discovered a link between in vitro fertilisation and an increased risk of glucose intolerance and developing Type II Diabetes in mice.

The findings are just one of the many research abstracts to be discussed at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Endocrine Society of Australia and the Society for Reproductive Biology 2013, from August 25-28 at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“IVF is becoming ever more accessible with a reported 5.5 million IVF babies worldwide. It is so important to future generations that there is ongoing research in this area to continue improving on the technology we currently have in place,” said Associate Professor Heilbronn.

“Studies in humans cannot separate out whether any differences in risk are due to genetics, environment or the IVF procedure itself and so we aimed to establish a mouse model in the first instance.”

The study was undertaken by obtaining mouse eggs, which were then fertilised and cultured in vitro replicating human IVF; and the embryos transferred to surrogate mice to develop. A control group of mice born following natural conception were also examined for comparison.

The offspring were weighed weekly from birth and at adolescence given either a regular diet or high fat diet for eight weeks.

When they reached adulthood the mice were assessed for their risk of Type II diabetes similar to tests in humans. Their blood glucose levels were measured and their ability to handle glucose ingestion was tested.

“Our results show that regardless of diet, IVF male mice showed an increased risk for developing Type II Diabetes, whereas only the female mice that ate a high fat diet showed a higher susceptibility to the disease,” she said.

Associate Professor Heilbronn said the team will continue their studies further to understand better why this occurs and how to prevent it. Most importantly they will determine whether it is the process of growing the embryos in vitro that causes the effects or whether it is the hormones that are given to women prior to obtaining their eggs that increases risk factors for metabolic syndrome and Type II Diabetes.

“IVF has helped to solve an age-old issue of infertility and it is important that we continue to build on the knowledge we currently have to build a healthier future for generations to come,” said Associate Professor Heilbronn.

“There is still so much research to be done and our team will begin the next stage of our study to investigate if these issues can be prevented during the in vitro culture process.

“There are a lot of positive signs to show that by changing IVF practices, such as lessening hormone exposure or freezing embryos, we may be able to prevent these issues from arising later in life,” she said.


The Endocrine Society of Australia