Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

IVF Mice Prone to Diabetes

By Stephen Luntz

Mice conceived through IVF are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those conceived naturally, adding to evidence that the same may be true for humans.

A/Prof Leonie Heilbronn of Adelaide University says: “A couple of studies 2–3 years ago showed 200 IVF children had higher fasting glucose levels than a control group and also tended to be fatter. These are risk factors for diabetes.”

However, Heilbronn adds that “in those studies we couldn’t separate whether this was diet or genetics or if the IVF was responsible. Maybe IVF children are more coddled, or maybe parents with greater risk factors are more likely to use IVF.”

Heilbronn did her study using mice with the same genetic profiles. Unsurprisingly there are no signs the IVF babies were raised differently. “Regardless of diet, IVF male mice showed an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, whereas only the female mice that ate a high-fat diet showed a higher susceptibility to the disease,” she says. Strangely, the female IVF mice, but not the males, were more likely to be obese.

The findings were presented to the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Endocrine Society of Australia.

Heilbronn is not sure of a cause, but says: “There is some evidence for changes or reductions in mitochondria for IVF babies. It could also be epigenetic. Most of the epigenome is laid down during the first 48 hours, while IVF embryos are cultured for 3–5 days.”

There is little evidence of other negative effects from IVF, although Heilbronn is aware of one study showing slightly higher blood pressure and stiffer arteries among IVF children.

Heilbronn says that if the connection is established in humans it could be used to warn IVF children that they are at greater risk of diabetes and might need to exercise more and pay greater attention to their diet. It may also provide leads about the importance of mitochondria or epigenomic effects in diabetes.