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Critical need for doctors to counsel couples on potential genetic burden in offspring of older dads

2024/5/26 16:15:59

MANILA, Philippines, May 26, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- An increasing trend of older fatherhood is potentially creating a global genetic disaster with devastating health consequences for offspring.

A major conference of human reproductive health in the Philippines will hear of mounting evidence that paternal ageing is associated with a profound increase in sperm DNA damage that can burden offspring with mutational impacts including schizophrenia, autism and childhood cancers.

Speaking at the 2024 Congress of the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction (ASPIRE) in Manila today, Indian fertility specialist, Dr Ameet Patki, said that sperm DNA damage in older men also contributes to an increased risk of pregnancy loss and a decrease in live births.

"It is imperative that clinicians advise couples where the man is aged 40 or more that there is an increased risk of adverse health outcomes in offspring, and potentially on future generations," Dr Patki said.

"Over the past 50 years there has been a significant increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in children and an eight-fold increase in childhood cancers. It is reasonable to assume that advanced paternal age is a contributor to this disturbing global trend.

"The average age of fathers is increasing, as it is among mothers as couples delay parenthood because of economic, social and lifestyle issues, and sperm counts in men in many countries are declining at an accelerated pace.

"We know that sperm count, volume and motility decrease with age, but the focus should also be on genomic defects in sperm."

Dr Patki, who is President of the Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR), said there had been major international studies on the impacts of maternal ageing and reproductive health, but research and clinical trials on paternal ageing were scant by comparison.

"In many societies, infertility is perceived as a female issue and many men are unwilling to accept that they may be a contributor to adverse reproductive outcomes," he said.

"However, the biological clock also ticks for men particularly in terms of sperm DNA fragmentation that occurs exponentially after the age of 40.

"Paternal ageing is associated with a profound increase in sperm DNA damage, the appearance of multiple epigenetic changes in the germ line, and an elevated mutational load in the offspring.

"The net result of such changes is an increase in the disease burden carried by the male and female progeny of ageing men including autism, attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia.

"The impacts of male biological time keeping are entirely different than maternal ageing.

"Genetic counselling should be considered for couples with advanced paternal ageing along with testing for sperm DNA fragmentation, particularly in cases of recurrent pregnancy loss."

Dr Patki said treatment with antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C and CQ10, could improve sperm DNA integrity and enhance semen parameters in men above the age of 40.

"Carefully designed clinical trials are now needed if we are to realise the therapeutic potential of this approach," he explained.

Meanwhile, a major focus of the Fertility Counts initiative being advanced by ASPIRE at the Manila Congress is that raising a family at a younger age is medically desirable, while understanding and addressing social and economic barriers to couples seeking parenthood in their prime reproductive years.

The ASPIRE Congress is being held at the Philippine International Convention Centre in Manila. For further information, go to the Congress website 



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