"Our study indicated that the use of ART [assisted reproductive technology] may [be] associated with higher risk of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] in the offspring. However, further prospective, large, and high-quality studies are still required."
So said the results of the meta-analysis published by Liang Lui and colleagues  (open-access) surveying the peer-reviewed research literature - "11 records (3 cohort studies and 8 case-control studies)" - between 2006 and 2015. ART covers a variety of techniques "to achieve pregnancy and live birth" most notably including IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and artificial insemination. Some, but not all, of the studies included for review suggested an *association* between ART use and enhanced risk of offspring autism particularly in "European and Asian populations." The authors were however unable to tease apart which specific ART(s) might be associated with a higher risk than others.
This is not the first time that this topic has been covered on this blog (see here). On that previous occasion I intimated that the source of any risk from ART on offspring autism was not yet identified and, in some cases, other birth factors might exert some effect. In short, it's more complicated than paper titles can transmit.
Does my opinion change as a result of these meta-analysed findings? Well, not really. I appreciate the findings reported by Lui and colleagues but I still think other birth factors might come into play outside of just ART exerting a primary effect. Not least is the possibility that issues affecting fertility in the first place might be particularly relevant among other confounders. I echo the sentiments of the authors that more research might be required in this area but with the various stresses and strains being placed on autism research resources these days, I'm not inclined to suggest that this area should necessarily be top of this list of priorities. Sorry.
 Liu L. et al. Association between assisted reproductive technology and the risk of autism spectrum disorders in the offspring: a meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2017 Apr 7;7:46207.
Liu L, Gao J, He X, Cai Y, Wang L, & Fan X (2017). Association between assisted reproductive technology and the risk of autism spectrum disorders in the offspring: a meta-analysis. Scientific reports, 7 PMID: 28387368
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