does age of sperm increase risk of genetic defects

Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes researching fertility issues knows that the mother’s age is a major factor. The older a woman is, the more likely she is to have problems conceiving. Women over 35 years old have a much lower IVF success rate and their embryos have a higher rate of chromosomal and genetic problems. Doctors have long theorized that the age of the father might pose similar complications, but until recently there hasn’t been a study specifically looking at the impact of the age of the sperm.

Does the Sperm’s Age Increase the Risk of Genetic Defects?

A recent study is starting to unravel the impact of paternal age on the health of an embryo. The study looked at the impact of the sperm’s age on the likelihood of aneuploidy, a condition caused when an embryo has an abnormal number of chromosomes. Researchers followed 819 couples undergoing 1108 IVF cycles and preformed preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) on the resulting 4,658 embryos. The ages of both parents were carefully tracked, allowing the researchers to see the influence of mother and father’s age separately.

The rate of aneuploidy rose sharply with the mother’s age, but stayed fairly consistent regardless of the father’s age.

A Step in the Right Direction

While it’s important to remember that this study only looks at one potential problem, the results are heartening for older men still hoping to have children. Dr. Alan Copperman, one of the lead researchers on this study and Medical Director at RMA New York said the following:

Much has been written regarding the contribution of paternal age to the health of the offspring. Some authors have suggested that there is an increased risk of miscarriages and chromosomally abnormal pregnancies with increased paternal age.

When controlled for oocyte age, we used molecular and genomic techniques to demonstrate that increased paternal age is not associated with aneuploidy in embryos. Older men who pursue IVF treatment with their partners may face additional social, ethical and health challenges, but they can be reassured that their sperm do not appear to have an increased risk of producing chromosomally abnormal embryos. As increased numbers of older men attempt parenthood, additional data will be available for analysis and the power of our conclusion can be increased.

Dr. Rebecca Sokol, the President of ASRM, further remarked, “While we do need more research on the subject, this study reassures us that the children of older fathers are as likely to be healthy as those born to younger fathers.”

Image credit:dominique bergeron