MELBOURNE, August 16, 2004 ( – Australian scientists have conclusively confirmed that children conceived through in-vitro fertilization are at a much greater risk—up to nine times more likely than children conceived naturally—to develop a rare disease known as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (BWS).

BWS is a genetic syndrome associated with an increased predisposition to certain types of cancer. Children with this condition may also grow larger tongues or other body parts.

BWS occurs as a result of errors in the imprinting of DNA. Scientist are unsure why the association is higher in IVF children, although one speculation is that growing the embryo in a culture medium for its first few days of life, as it is done, may lend to errors in genetic imprinting.  Jane Halliday of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne found a relative rate of BWS of one in 36,000 among the general population, while IVF babies had the disease at a rate closer to 1 in 4,000. Their results were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics (vol 75, p 526).

Additional studies have shown that other genetic disorders are also more common in IVF children. At least a dozen scientific papers published in the past year suggest a possible link between IVF and increased health risks.  Read the related story, “IVF links to increased cancer risk”:   Read related coverage:  Researchers Admit IVF Carries Higher Birth Defect Risk   tv