If you or anyone you know and care about have any interest in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), aka In Vitro Fertilization, the following bad news simply cannot be ignored. I believe the same applies to the rest of us.
Some four years ago, a team of Swiss scientists discovered that children conceived thanks to IVF presented significant vascular dysfunctions. In simple terms, their arteries are overly rigid, their pulmonary arterial pressure is much too high and they have a significantly higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease at a young age.
It has been a four year long struggle to get this information out.
- Part of it is finally being published in a science journal. Click here to read the abstract.
- Part of it will be shown on Swiss French TV, this Wednesday, April 4 at 8:15. For those of you that speak French, I highly recommend to watch it. Click here for more information.
Of course, this is bad news for some 5 million people worldwide that are test-tube babies. But this alone doesn’t warrant rethinking prevention and medicine. So there has to be more.
And there is.
What the researchers found is that the solutions used to for the in vitro fertilization step per se damage DNA . The types of damage observed are not mutations, but simple chemical modifications of healthy genes. And these modifications are inheritable, much like genes are in genetics. But in this case, it is the environment that directly influences how healthy genes are expressed in the parents, the children, the grand-children, and so on…
This type of inheritance that bypasses Darwin is called epigenetics.
Epigenetics. Please remember this term, it is so important!
Epigenetic inheritance of health and disease has been discovered in other instances: famines or excess food that affect the health of descendants 150 years later, witnessing traumatic events that results in chronic pro-inflammatory states in the descendants a century later, toxic drug side effects that affect one's grand-children, etc.
But this is the first time that the message is delivered in such a concrete way. A message that will undoubtedly hurt. A message that we all must understand.
So what does it mean, concretely?
Firstly, the millions of grown-up test tube babies must realize that their own children will likely have dysfunctional blood vessels just like they do, unless medicine finds some way to reverse the DNA damage present in their sperm or eggs before or at the moment of conception.
Secondly, the couples that decide to have a test tube baby should think twice and get all the information they can to make an informed decision.
Thirdly, the world has become such a complex place that domain experts cannot be trusted anymore to decide for all of us what "good practices" may be. This is true for the experts that designed, authorized and built the Fukushima nuclear plant and this is true for the IVF protocols that were approved without relevant biological questioning. If, in the early days of IVF techniques, no one had a clue about the possible dangers, there have been plenty of warning signs in the last years about epigenetic damage caused by IVF!
But the experts failed to act...
And it took researchers four long years to get their results published...
How many babies were born in that period with epigenetic damage caused by imperfect test tube recipes?
How many are being conceived now with a lab procedure which is clearly flawed?
Is anyone going to do anything about this and if yes, when?
How de we prevent such mistakes in the future?
These are tough questions and the only answer that comes to mind is that experts must absolutely and continuously be challenged by the rest of us, in an intelligent way. Not in a dogmatic, ignorant, irresponsible way (like the GMO debate in Europe, which is an intellectual fiasco) but in an intelligent way. This requires good basic science education which most of us have never received. But this is another topic....
There is one last and by far the most important message for all of us. Our behavior and the environment we live in will directly affect not only our health but the health of our children, grand-children and the generations to come.
In other words the very definition of health must be revisited.
Here is the old definition of health: The state of the organism when it functions optimally without evidence of disease (this one is the official Mesh definition!)
Well, I would like to propose another one, epigenetic health: taking good care of ourselves, of our planet and of the future human beings that are already present in us as DNA molecules.
So, how exactly healthy do you want to be?