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28 June 2005
Older Menís Sperm Often Damaged
by George Atkinson

A warning for older men about the potential damage to the DNA in their sperm was sounded at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Sergey Moskovtsev, of the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, told the conference that an increase in the ages of mothers and fathers made this warning particularly significant. "Older men tend to reproduce with older women", he said, "and the combination of increased female factor infertility, increased sperm DNA damage, low levels of DNA repair, and increased abnormalities in conventional semen parameters will have a pronounced impact on their reproductive potential."

Moskovtsev said the increased use of artificial fertilization techniques could have troubling implications for the health of the babies born to older couples. "Many of these older couples will have trouble in conceiving and resort to IVF and ICSI", he said. "This will bypass the natural selection of normal, healthy sperm and may lead to fertilization by sperm with damaged DNA which can result in early embryonic loss or the birth of unhealthy offspring."

Moskovtsev and his co-researchers examined the semen parameter known as DNA integrity, which is related to fertility potential. They found that DNA damage was significantly higher in men over 45 years old than in all younger age groups, and that the damage was doubled in those men 45 years and older compared with those less than 30 years old. "Sperm DNA damage cannot be repaired", said Moskovtsev. "We need to investigate the possibility of developing techniques to identify and select sperm without DNA damage for use in assisted reproduction techniques. IVF and ICSI cannot overcome abnormalities in DNA integrity," said Moskovtsev.

An assessment of DNA damage in sperm should be an essential part of any examination of the fertility potential of older men, urged Moskovtsev. "The effect of age on male fertility is particularly interesting because of the growth in the number of men choosing to father children at older ages," he said. "In the United States, the birth rate for fathers older than 35 years increased by almost 20 percent between 1980 and 1995."

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