August 6, 2012 ( – Calling the benefits of the various technologies already in use “dubious,” an article appearing in the latest edition of Reproductive Biomedicine Online, has called into question the safety and efficacy of artificial reproductive technologies surrounding in vitro fertilisation. Normally with new biomedical technologies, a technique is rigorously tested on animals for years before it is applied to humans, but in the IVF industry, new techniques have “rarely been robustly validated before clinical use in humans”.

Since the first “test tube baby” was born in 1978, the field of artificial reproduction has seen enormous leaps in technological innovations, but few of these, say the authors Rachel Brown and Joyce Harper, of University College London, have been broadly tested with rigorous clinical standards and the ethical implications for safety have been considered equally rarely.

Moreover, even as these untested techniques have proliferated in IVF clinics, developments “in our scientific understanding of a technique has failed to be quickly incorporated into clinical changes”. While the artificial reproductive tech industry has grown wildly over the last thirty years, there are growing concerns that some of these techniques “offer little or no benefit, and in the worse cases [are] not confirmed to be safe”.

The authors focus on a range of techniques to select gametes, sperm and ova, and artificially created embryos for implantation, such as sperm DNA-damage tests, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and preimplantation genetic screening. These and a number of newer techniques, “have rarely been robustly tested and approved before they are routinely offered to infertile couples”.

Given that the average success rate of artificial reproductive technologies remains around 15 to 20 per cent, and that each treatment can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the authors question the ethics and efficacy of much of what is being offered in clinics. In a previous paper, published in December 2011 in the Oxford Journal of Human Reproduction, Joyce Harper questioned the industry’s eagerness to apply untested technologies to human beings, saying that while the technology has jumped forward, “laboratory protocols are also often established internationally without adequate validation.”

“With technologies such as producing gametes from stem cells around the corner, it is vital to ensure that the necessary research and development is conducted before bringing new techniques into clinical practice.”

The authors focus on the usefulness of sperm DNA-damage assessment, a technique that uses chemical tests to assess sperm for DNA damage in order to select sperm more likely to successfully penetrate the oocyte. Despite having been called into question by recent research, this technique continues to be widely offered they report.