Donor-conceived offspring at risk of immunological diseases


Thursday, 01 October, 2020


Donor-conceived offspring at risk of immunological diseases

Adults conceived through sperm donation report higher frequencies of allergies, type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune conditions, according to a newly released study that examined the long-term health outcomes of donor-conceived people.

Conducted by Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute and led by PhD candidate Damian Adams, the study looked at 272 donor-conceived adult participants from around the world — the majority from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands — together with 877 who were conceived naturally. Results were published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

For most health outcomes, sperm donor-conceived adults reported no significant difference to participants born through natural conception. However, donor-conceived adults had seven times more type 1 diabetes diagnoses than naturally conceived adults, together with double the incidence of thyroid disease, acute bronchitis and sleep apnoea, and a 45% incidence of allergies compared to 35% in the naturally conceived population.

Adams said most of the health conditions reported by donor-conceived people had an immunological basis, suggesting an alteration to their immunological systems.

“What may potentially be driving this is the maternal complication of pre-eclampsia, which has increased incidences associated with the use of donated gametes (sex cells),” he said.

“Pre-eclampsia is an extremely serious condition that is mediated by the immune system. Research has shown that children born from a pregnancy complicated by pre-eclampsia have altered epigenetic profiles, including links with an altered immune system.”

Professor Sheryl de Lacey, who served as one of Adams’ supervisors on the study, said the use of donor gametes has been cloaked in secrecy and abetted by anonymity, with pregnancies assumed to be no different to natural conceptions.

“Being aware of an increased risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy and the implications for children in adulthood holds the potential to empower women beyond their pregnancy,” Prof de Lacey said.

“For parents, this unique study provides important information that informs their decision of whether to disclose conception means to their child, and to choose the health care they receive. For donor-conceived people, having this information may improve vigilance in preventative health behaviours.”

Adams added that donor-conceived people are a hard-to-reach population, with research consistently showing that the majority do not know they were conceived by sperm donation.

“We had to implement six different recruitment strategies to attract the sample size we achieved,” he noted.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/vital9c

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