Bioethics News

What’s in the IVF Petri dish?

Starving Dutch children looking for food during the Dutch Hunger Winter    

With as many as one in 25 children being born through IVF in some countries, you would think that doctors understand the health risks perfectly.

Not so.

A clutch of papers in the leading journal Human Reproduction points out that the Petri dishes in which IVF embryos spend the first days of their lives are filled with mysterious fluids made up of unknown ingredients. And the composition of these laboratory cultures affects the birthweight of the resulting babies – and possibly their long-term health.

In a blistering editorial, Hans Evers, the journal’s editor, writes that he knows far more about the ingredients in his favourite peanut butter, from the ingredients to the production record, than he does about embryo culture media.

“It’s not possible to sell a single drug on the market if you do not give the total composition of the drug, but for such an important thing as culture media, that envelopes the whole embryo, you can sell it without revealing its contents. For me, that’s unacceptable,” Evers told New Scientist. “Compared to the rest of medicine, this is such a backward area. We can’t accept it any longer.”

In one paper, Dutch scientists conducted a random controlled trial of two types of IVF culture media. They found a clear correlation between the media and low birthweight. “This means that we should be careful and we should no longer blindly accept new culture media, or other alterations in laboratory or clinical procedures, without first rigorously studying effectiveness and safety,” the scientists wrote.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.