Posted On: February 18, 2009

Growing Consensus on Genetic Risks of IVF

In vitro fertilization has generally been considered safe since the first IVF baby was born more than 30 years ago. But recent studies unveil a number of risks that couples considering the procedure should be aware of, reports Gina Kolata of the New York Times.

These IVF-related risks may include increased risk of low birth weight and premature birth, as well as severe birth defects like “a hole between the two chambers of the heart, a cleft lip or palate, an improperly developed esophagus, and a malformed rectum.” Studies indicate that IVF possibly give rise to abnormal genetic expression patterns that are responsible for these genetic disorders.

In addition to the more common birth defects, children born by IVF are also suspected to be at greater risk for other genetic disorders that are much rarer: Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (children with this syndrome are much more predisposed to childhood cancers of kidney, liver or muscle) and Angelman syndrome (severe mental retardation, motor defects and inability to speak).

Although certain risks of in vitro fertilization are beginning to surface, no finding is conclusive yet – these are preliminary studies that show “comparative risks,” but no “absolute risks” are known yet. Researchers are still in the process of discovering exactly what the risks are and what can be done to minimize them. More research reports will be available as scientists track the development and growth of babies born by IVF, and couples interested in fertility treatment should educate themselves about the risks in order to make informed decisions.

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Posted On: February 2, 2009

DC Children Affected by High Lead Levels in Drinking Water

Researchers at Virginia Tech and Children’s National Medical Center found in a recent study that many young children in the District of Columbia may have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead during the water crisis from 2001 to 2004, reports the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig.

The study, published last week in Environmental Science and Technology, contradicts the federal and DC health officials' repeated assurance that there was “no identifiable public health impact from elevated lead levels in drinking water.” The US Environmental Protection Agency and the DC Water and Sewer Authority cited a 2004 report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found no increased blood lead level in households where high levels of lead were found in tap water.

The problem in the District of Columbia is that many homes still have lead pipes that run from the water main under the street to the home.

Lead-poisoned children are at risk of many permanent neurological damages, including irreversible IQ loss, developmental delays, aggression, and difficulty focusing in school. D.C. residents whose children were two-years-old or younger during the water crisis are encouraged to monitor their kids. To reduce the impact of lead poisoning, doctors recommend “healthful, calcium-rich diet and an enriching educational environment that includes reading to them regularly.”

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