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Programming of the Heart by IVF

In vitro fertilisation

Over 8 million babies have now been successfully born from assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF). While the technique is very safe, unfortunately, recent studies have shown people conceived by IVF have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular abnormalities in early childhood. The underlying mechanisms are unknown, and the long-term impact has yet to be determined because the oldest person with an IVF background is only 45.  Recent studies have shown variations in IVF culture conditions (e.g., nutrient composition and oxygen levels) can alter the metabolic fingerprint of mammalian embryos and programme cardiac abnormalities in adulthood. These studies highlight the urgent clinical need to investigate the link between IVF culture conditions and cardiovascular disease. 

How Does IVF affect Cardiovascular Development?

Heart development
  • While cardiovascular dysfunction is clearly associated with IVF, the underlying mechanisms remain unknown.  

  • Controlled laboratory studies have found cardiovascular abnormalities also exist in mouse models of IVF, which suggests cardiovascular dysfunction originates from the IVF process itself

  • Problems could occur at any stage of IVF:  ovarian hyperstimulation, oocyte extraction, in vitro fertilization, in vitro culture (typically for 5 days), and embryo transfer.  

  • While there is evidence that all of these factors influence offspring cardiovascular structure and function, in vitro culture per se is emerging as a crucial step.  

  • In particular, selection of the nutritional media for embryo culture in vitro is vital for embryonic viability and health, and the gradual optimisation of the media is one of the reasons IVF success rates have improved.  

  • However, similar to other in vitro environments, the conditions do not faithfully recapitulate the in vivo scenario, and importantly

  • Furthermore, there are dramatic differences in the nutrient composition and oxygen saturation of the culture media between different IVF clinics.  V

  • Variation in the culture environment can have major clinical implications due to the phenomenon of developmental programming, whereby environmental stress during development can alter the developmental trajectory of organisms, leading to disease susceptibility in adulthood.  T

  • These observations have recently led researchers to speculate that cardiovascular dysfunction in IVF offspring may originate from in vitro programming induced by the embryonic culture conditions. 

IVF Projects in the Lab

Frozen or fresh eggs in IVF
Effects of lactate in IVF culture
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