STUDY QUESTION: Do embryo culture media used during an IVF/ICSI treatment have an effect on cognitive development of singleton IVF children at 9 years of age?
SUMMARY ANSWER: Cognitive development of children born after culture in two different embryo culture media is comparable.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Previously, we have shown that the culture medium used in an IVF/ICSI treatment affects birthweight and weight at 2 years of age after alternating assignment to embryo culture in either K-SCICM (Cook) or G1™ Version 3 (Vitrolife). Children with low birthweight are known to have an increased risk for learning disabilities. Data on cognitive development in general of children born after ART are still conflicting, and the only study reporting on the effects of culture medium on cognitive development shows significant differences in cognitive development between two culture medium groups.
STUDY DESIGN SIZE DURATION: In this observational cohort follow-up study (MEDIUM-KIDS), parents of all singletons from our abovementioned study were approached after the ninth birthday of their child to participate in an additional follow-up study. Of the 294 eligible children included in the original study, 119 children (70 Vitrolife and 49 Cook) participated in the current study.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS SETTING METHODS: All follow-up measurements were performed between March 2014 and December 2016. CITO (Dutch Central Institute for Test Development) developed the Dutch pupil monitoring system, which involves nationwide independent, standardized, academic achievement score tests to monitor the child's school performance twice a year at fixed time points from third grade onward. The tests include language skills (vocabulary and orthography), mathematics and reading capability and comprehension. Results from the tests performed between third and sixth grades, expressed as ability scores, were obtained from the school. To investigate school performance development over the years, we used a mixed effects multilevel model. The least complex model with the best fit was selected to analyze whether culture medium affects cognitive development in our cohort. The study had enough power to detect a difference in ability score that reflects at least one performance category between the two groups.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: No differences were seen in baseline characteristics between participants and non-participants (both parental and children characteristics). For all domains, the random intercept model was used. All analyses showed comparable results for the two culture medium groups. No significant differences were observed for any of the cognitive development domains, even after correction for potential confounders. Parental level of education was higher in the IVF group (45%) if compared to the national average level of education (35%), which most likely explains the higher CITO scores for the IVF children if compared to the National ability scores.
LIMITATIONS REASONS FOR CAUTION: A limitation of the study was its pseudo-randomized design and the relatively low participation rate of 40.5%. This and the number of missing data prevent us from drawing robust causal conclusions. However, as this is the first and therewith oldest cohort of children where culture medium was allocated alternatingly and used in a blinded setting, in the same period, with all other conditions identical this study gives up until now the best available evidence.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Our study analyzes the effects of culture medium on school performance of children born after IVF/ICSI in a prospective cohort study. Although further research on long-term academic skills and also on behavior is essential, our results are reassuring and should make parents of children born after IVF/ICSI feel comfortable with their children's cognitive development.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: The study was financially supported by the March of Dimes (Grant no. #6-FY13-153). The sponsor of the study had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation or writing of the report. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: NTR4220.