Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sperm 2. DNA damage is significantly related to age

Sperm DNA Damage: Correlation To Severity Of Semen Abnormalities
Main Category: Fertility
Also Included In: Urology / Nephrology; Genetics
Article Date: 24 Nov 2008 - 1:00 PST

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA (UroToday.com) - Evaluation of male fertility includes assessment of the standard semen parameters (SSP) and may include assessment of DNA damage. However, the relationship between DNA damage and SSP remains controversial. This study examined the the relationship of DNA damage to SSP in patients presenting for infertility evaluation.

The authors conducted an IRB approved retrospective review of semen samples from 2586 unselected non-azoospermic patients underwent computer-assisted semen analysis and flow cytometry based sperm DNA damage assessment expressed as the DNA Fragmentation Index (DFI). DFI was significantly negatively correlated to sperm concentration, motility, and normal morphology and positively correlated to age (P<0.001). DNA damage increased in relationship to the number of abnormalities in the SSP (P <0.001).

The authors concluded:

1. DNA damage is significantly related to standard parameters of semen analysis
2. DNA damage is significantly related to age
3. The degree of DNA damage increases with the number of abnormal parameters in a sample and is most severe in patients with oligo-astheno-teratospermia (OAT).

Editorial Comments:

The authors demonstrate the relationship between progressively more abnormal semen parameters and abnormal DFI. This is consistent with clinical observations and does not appear to demonstrate any incremental value to DFI assessment, in clinical practice, in the initial assessment of the infertile male.

Presented by S. I. Moskovtsev, J. Willis, and J. White, et al., at the 64th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine - November 8 - 12, 2008 - San Francisco, California

Reported by UroToday.com Contributing Editor Harris M. Nagler, MD

UroToday - the only urology website with original content written by global urology key opinion leaders actively engaged in clinical practice.

To access the latest urology news releases from UroToday, go to: www.urotoday.com

Copyright © 2008 - UroToday


Friday, November 21, 2008

Alzheimer's link to older fathers

Alzheimer's link to older fathers
Independent, The (London), Sep 17, 1998 by Charles Arthur Technology Editor
E-mail Print Link CHILDREN BORN to fathers who are approaching middle age have a higher than average risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in later life, a study suggests.

A retrospective investigation of 206 people who have the degenerative illness, but no history of it occurring in the family, revealed a statistically significant link with the age of their father when they were born.

Some genes are known to contibute to the chance of developing Alzheimer's, but the new study, carried out by Lars Bertram at the Technical University of Munich, suggests that simply having an older father - average age 35.7 - can be a risk factor even in the absence of those genes. For those where there was a family history of Alzheimer's, the average age of the father was 31.3 years.

Though the sample is comparatively small, it is in line with the knowledge that ageing is associated with genetic damage to the sperm, which carry the father's genetic contribution to the child. That might eventually lead to Alzheimer's in the offspring. "There's an accumulation of environmental factors which somehow alter the genome of the father," Dr Bertram told New Scientist magazine.

Similar effects are already known to occur in women, where mothers over 35 have a far higher chance of giving birth to babies with Down's syndrome, which is caused by a genetic defect in the embryo. People with Down's syndrome are also more likely eventually to develop Alzheimer's.

Copyright 1998 Newspaper Publishing PLC
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

'I'm 41 and childless. Is it too late to become a father?'

'I'm 41 and childless. Is it too late to become a father?'The latest science claims older dads can cause autism, schizophrenia and Down's Syndrome - and their fertility fades with age. Ian Tucker consults his biological clockComments (47)
Ian Tucker guardian.co.uk, Sunday November 16 2008 00.01 GMT The Observer, Sunday November 16 2008 Article history
Ian Tucker ponders fatherhood and fertility
. Photograph: Ellis Parrinder

Last night I ate a large bowl of beetroot from my garden. This morning my urine is the colour of rosé wine and I'm worried that my semen might have taken on a similar hue. The colour of my semen is a concern because someone will be studying it in a short while. I'm considering this while sitting in the top floor 'specimen room' of the London Fertility Centre on Harley Street. Later on, when I mention where I've been to friends and colleagues they seem really interested in the interior design details of a room set aside for masturbation. So if you're planning one, here's some decorating tips. The room is on the second floor and it has two notices on its door: one saying 'Quiet Please' (in case passers-by are inclined to cheer or clap, I guess) and a sliding sign with 'Vacant/Occupied' options - I've opted for 'occupied' although I'm not, so far. Inside, the room is about 6ft x 12ft and painted in various pale non-colours. It is equipped with an ensuite shower, light-green vinyl-covered daybed and a fudge-coloured bathroom suite (including bidet). There is a sash window - which isn't overlooked. The atmosphere is more Carry On than Casualty. On one side of the sink there is a small empty plastic beaker (with my name on it). On the other a DVD player, screen and a remote. I consider all the hands that have touched the remote. Using one of the many tissues provided I pick it up and inspect it; it appears to be clean. The television doesn't show any of the normal channels.

I'm here because I'm concerned about my sperm. Not that they might be beetroot coloured, but rather that they might not be fit for purpose. That they might not be as athletic, plentiful and perfectly formed as they need to be. I'm 41 and childless, and although I'm not involved in a 'trying-for-a-baby'-type scenario I've been reading the papers and the news for fortysomething men and their sperm isn't great.

'Scientists warn that biological clock affects male fertility' warned the Guardian in July - well, scientists are always saying stuff aren't they? 'Risk of miscarriage soars once the father reaches 35' (Daily Mail) - that sounds worrying. 'Blokes going infertile aged 35' (Sun). Must have sex, pronto! The papers were all reporting in their own particular ways on the research of Dr Stephanie Belloc from the Eylau Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Paris. Dr Belloc had studied the records of 12,000 couples who visited her clinic and separated out the influence of the mother's and father's ages on the chances of conception and miscarriage.

Belloc and her team found that women whose partners were 35 or older had more miscarriages than those who were with younger men, regardless of their own age. The risk of miscarriage was on average 16.7 per cent when the men were aged 30-34, but it doubled to 33 per cent in men over 40. Moreover, her research showed that men's ages also affected pregnancy rates, which were lower in the over-40s. As the Mirror summed it up, 'Over-35? You're a dad loss.'

I can remember ridiculing my own father for being 40, so how did I end up childless at 41? To start with I went to university and became middle-class. It seems only people from council estates and people who own estates have kids young these days. The middle classes are too busy in their twenties establishing careers, climbing the property ladder and going on snowboarding holidays.

Although lack of one doesn't stop some people, I feel you need to be in a reasonably stable relationship before having kids - and I haven't been in one of those of late. But of late, many of my peers are reproducing, some are already on to their third. Even the ones who had drug problems are conceiving and, meanwhile, gay friends are cutting breeding deals with lesbians. I wonder if time is running out.

It's an easy thought to have because I can't act on it, but sometimes I think I should have had some children in my twenties. I had more energy and didn't have many material comforts to give up or much of a lifestyle to compromise. I'd be packing them off to university around now, thumbing sports car brochures and thinking about buying a peach farm in Spain. Frankly, I can't remember that much of my twenties, so maybe it would have put this decade of void to good use. I don't recall any of my peers having kids; maybe it was a hangover from the Aids era - people seemed pretty conscientious about birth control, there were no 'accidents'. So now, at 41, I wonder if I've skipped the whole kids thing.

I seem to be developing the hobbies and pastimes of a senior citizen - golf, growing beetroot, buffing my classic car. But the reality is I've got 19 years until I qualify for my bus pass - which is just enough time to raise at least one human being. So should I be worried about or believe in the 'male biological clock'?

Back in 2001, Professor Dolores Malaspina, of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, concluded that men aged 50 or over are three times more likely to father a child with schizophrenia compared with men of 25 or under. Four years later, epidemiologist Jorn Olsen at the University of California, Los Angeles, found a fourfold rise in Down's syndrome among babies born to men aged 50 and older. And in 2006 scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that children born to fathers aged 40 and over were nearly six times more likely to suffer from autism than those with a father under 30. Meanwhile, other researchers have suggested patterns between older fathers and increased chances of bipolar disorder, dwarfism and Apert syndrome - whose unlucky sufferers have a malformed skull and webbed hands and feet, among other disfigurements. A report in 2006 even suggested 'a modest effect of advanced paternal age on the Apgar score'. And after finding out what an Apgar score is I now know this to be less than good. The evidence appeared to be stacking up.

Yet are these findings as scary as they sound? Dr Belloc's sample was made up entirely of couples presenting for infertility treatment. 'It is not evident that we can extrapolate these conclusions to a fertile population,' she tells me. And many of the incidences in the other studies are minute; so a fivefold increase is still only a five-times-minute chance of some disorder or other. Moreover, these studies only show patterns, rather than direct causal links - finding a direct link would probably require examining DNA at a detail beyond most researchers' budgets or ability. Some commentators have speculated that if a man first becomes a father in his forties or fifties that may indicate he has had trouble forming relationships earlier in his life, which may mean in a mild, undiagnosed kind of way he's a carrier of problems like bipolar disorder or autism which have a genetic element - so his paternal age is irrelevant to the outcome.

Which isn't exactly comforting, but it suggests the 'male biological clock' doesn't tick as loudly as the headlines suggest. For Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University, the clock is nothing more than ageing. As you grow older, you lose a bit of hair and experience the odd 'senior moment', so you shouldn't be surprised if your sperm isn't as sprightly as it used to be. 'In terms of numbers it's the same, but what tends to happen is that the sperm isn't as good.' If their biological clock is ticking, men are pretty deaf to it. The age of fatherhood is creeping up: the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the average age of married fathers rose from 29.1 in 1971 to 34.1 in 2003 - getting close to the 35-year point where some of the problems are alleged to kick in. I ask Dr Pacey if this is a worrying trend. 'The problem is couples are waiting until they are older. To wait until the woman is approaching 40 is the wrong time to be starting, and that will be exasperated by any problem that he has due to ageing.' Dr Pacey's advice to me is not to hang about: 'You will be more successful having a child naturally at an earlier age; it will be cheaper for you and it will be much more fun than waiting until you're well into your forties, going to an infertility clinic and having it done artificially. What we're finding are lots of people attending infertility clinics in their forties who would have succeeded in getting pregnant at 25. Rather than waiting for technology to sort it out, if you are in a position to have children early, then go ahead and do it.'

What Dr Pacey and others are quick to point out is that there's definitely a female biological clock. Women are born with a finite number of eggs and at some point they will run out. According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a woman is half as fertile at 35 as she is at 25, and half as fertile again at 40.

You might be thinking, 'Why is he bothering to spell that out, everyone knows that?' Well, before researching this piece I was only vaguely aware of those blunt facts, but, more surprisingly, when chatting to single and married thirtysomething childless women about this article they start saying things like: 'My gran had my mother at 45,' 'What about Madonna?' or, most biologically incorrect: 'I'm not ready yet.' They seemed about as informed as I was. 'With the Madonnas and all the rest who seem to have children quite naturally, no one mentions IVF or egg donors, and celebrity miscarriages don't make the pages of Heat,' says Dr Pacey. 'This silence reinforces the myth that these miracle births happen, when often there's a medical intervention.' And IVF isn't a safety net: according to the HFEA, IVF has only a 12 per cent success rate for a 40-year-old woman. And it will cost you: the NHS, on the advice of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice), doesn't fund IVF for women over 40 because of the low success rate. The average cost of a cycle is £4,000-£8,000. Is it chauvinistic to question the sense of delaying having kids for the sake of a career if you're going to spend most of the extra income on fertility treatment?

However it's not only career building that is nudging the maternal age up; those commitment-phobic, nappy-changing-averse partners make a contribution, too - people like me. One could argue that this male biological clock business is providing men with another excuse to avoid having kids - we move from 'I'm not ready yet' to 'It's too dangerous now' in the time it takes to power up a Nintendo Wii. Or maybe you could blame the introduction of Viagra - which has engendered the idea that men can stay virile forever, so why rush? - as most men think the difference between virility and fertility is latex thin. But if you're looking for something that's really obscuring the hands of the male biological clock, look to famous people. When it comes to fertility, biology tells us one thing, but celebrities tell us another: ie, no matter how superannuated you are, getting your girlfriend up the duff is child's play. Middle-aged famous fellas love a baby shower.

Dr Pacey isn't impressed: 'The John Humphrys thing does distort the picture. There'll be lots of men who will read this piece and say, "I was 50 and I had a child," and it's really difficult to argue against that because they do, but statistically you are less likely to succeed and more likely to have problems. For the individual who has been successful it will seem stupid that I'm saying that, but for every 50-year-old father there'll be 10 times more thinking, "I had a lot of problems."'

Even if you, your sperm and your wife from a younger generation manage to buck the stats, there are other non-bio reasons against fathering kids late. Most obviously you might die before they graduate - if you're 65 now, on average you'll die at 82 - although for how much longer you will be capable of having a kick-about, helping them with their homework or visiting the lavatory without their assistance isn't recorded. And while it's embarrassing to be mistaken occasionally for their grandfather, it's thoughtless not to meet your grandchildren.

Am I being too hard on the older dad? I call Charlie Lewis, professor of family and developmental psychology at Lancaster University. Should we give middle-aged men the snip? 'Some men claim to be better fathers when older, but I don't see this in the majority of men. I find them saying, "I'm clapped out, I've done my bit at work, I've provided a house and comfortable living, now let me vegetate." They think it's their right to sit in front of the telly and not take part in any interaction. It's almost autistic. Older fathers tend to do less of the stereotypical activities than younger fathers do, less childcare and less kicking footballs - for fear of snapping a tendon. They think, "I'm much too old for this."'

Surprisingly, Lewis is more relaxed about the dying thing. 'I don't want to put fathers down, but if you look at the majority of evidence on loss, it does point to losing a mother before 11 being more predictive of later social/psycho disorders than losing a father. These effects are most often caused by the child absorbing the surviving partner's grief. So if the mother can manage the grieving process, the predictable death of an older father needn't be a life-changing trauma.'

Dads dead or alive, we should be more concerned about the kids, says Lewis. 'You do get studies that say old dads feel closer to their kids, but I'm not aware that kids feel closer to their older fathers.'

I wonder if I would become one of these dead-beat, distant dads. I like to think not. I don't quite understand how

that could happen. What kind of an individual would tune into a Top Gear repeat rather than read to their child or even relieve them of a shitty nappy? Maybe I'm being naive. I talk to some dad friends.

Gary, 45, first became a father when he was 23, but then remarried and had three more children, the oldest of whom is five. Would he like to compare and contrast? 'Obviously becoming a father young was a bit of a shock, it made me grow up quickly. I'm not sure at that age if you're responsible enough to look after yourself let alone a little child.' So how is it second time around: does older dad mean better dad? 'When my second wife first wanted children I did have slight panic attacks, because I had this memory of it being a total whirlwind, but this time it's completely different, it doesn't seem half as stressful as when I was in my twenties.' Gary says this isn't just because he's been a parent before - 'No, it's mainly because I'm more grown-up, more patient, more financially settled. I'm far more chilled out this time around.' So you'd advise an older option? 'It's better to have children at a later date, but myself, I'm worried about getting older. First time round I was one of the youngest parents in the playground; now I'm one of the oldest. My youngest is 10 months, so I'll be at retirement or grandfather age in her late teens. You hope to be running around in the park, doing those things that children want you to do and provide as parents. Hopefully I'll be one of those who manages it, but I will have to wait and see.'

The energy issue: I've heard this raised before. People talk about the nuclear-like amounts of energy you need to bring up a child, but I suspect it's similar to the stamina needed to squire a girlfriend half your age. Because down-ageing your just-broody girlfriends each time they start describing a new frock as 'a bit maternity' is really the only alternative to producing offspring.

Jonathan, 49, had two sons when he was 23 and 27. He says the early months were 'terrifying', and both he and his girlfriend had to abandon their career plans: 'Our embryonic lives together as a couple were entirely transformed into a fully fledged proper adult relationship. And we didn't have much money - I even used to scavenge skips for firewood.' But for all the foraging the relatively small age difference means he's closer to his kids. 'We can go to the cinema together, appreciate some of the same music, go out for a beer, they call me by my first name.' He got divorced and, a couple of years ago, he remarried. He isn't keen to become a father again: 'I'm interested in the relationship with my wife rather than with anyone else. The relationship I have with my children is established, I like the marriage and lifestyle we have, and because of my previous experience I can see how that could be compromised.'

What is his advice for someone like me, thinking of becoming a father in my forties? 'I think, you're not going to get a lot of sleep. And by the time you're my age, when you take your kids to a restaurant they'll be running around banging their heads, stealing food, whereas I'll be discussing the amount of oak in the Sauvignon with mine. I'd think about that quite carefully.'

So that's what I should have done. Bred early. Guess there's no point in crying over spilled, er, milk.

The trouble with this when-to-procreate business is it's personal. Apologies, it's not much of an insight but everyone is different. They earn lots of money, earn not much money, like kids, don't like kids, have live-in help, are still looking for The One, are given a babies-or-else ultimatum by their partners, had a shit childhood themselves, don't feel the need to have babies to preserve their relationship, are worried they'll pass on a condition, feel they've established their career, don't want a career, haven't been to Patagonia yet - the list of caveats and factors that make it the 'right time' for someone is as long as the waiting list for a Doctor Who Dalek Electronic Voice Changer Helmet.

So, to borrow a phrase from a Dragon: 'Let me tell you where I am.' For me, I think 45 is the cut-off. For biological reasons - you can't donate sperm past 45 - there must be something in those scary reports. And financially, I'd like to retire on time, if indeed I'm lucky enough to still have a career by then. Which doesn't give me much time, I guess, to meet someone, fall in love, imagine being with this person for the foreseeable future - if that's not over-romantic, delusional, too-much-like-a-John-Cusack-movie. But I'm getting ahead of myself: maybe I'm firing blanks anyhow.

For the 20-minute wait while my sperm is being tested, I chat to Dr Magdy Asaad, clinical director, in his office about the problems with semen. Mine is being tested for volume, viscosity, concentration, mobility, morphology and antibodies.

Dr Asaad uses the gold standard WHO criteria which are surprisingly generous - only 50 per cent of your sperm needs to move, for instance, and you're allowed up to 80 per cent with an abnormal form, such as funny-shaped heads or two tails, 'because 20 per cent of 20m is considered enough, it's a lot of sperm,' Dr Asaad chuckles.

I'm curious: do anxious men often pop in on their own for a lunchtime sperm test, check everything is wriggling right? 'It's not common, but when men present on their own, it's normally a problem with their ability to have an erection or ejaculation.'

Well as you can tell I have no problems in that area, I say.

'But some men don't like to give a sample,' he continues. 'They find all kinds of excuses: maybe they are worried it will not be good, or that it's an artificial thing, to press a button [is he talking about the remote control?]. I don't know how it was for you, I'm not asking. Sometimes a gentleman will have difficulty preparing manually.' Unbelievable.

The walls and desk of the doctor's office are smothered with framed photographs of beaming parents with their children - patients he's helped to fashion a bundle of joy for over the years. In your experience, I ask Dr Asaad, when is a good age for procreation? 'You're mature enough by your late twenties, early thirties, responsible enough, you probably have a job, a partner. I don't think it's a very serious problem waiting to 40-45, but beyond that you have to think about time with the child.'

With that, Dr Asaad prints off a piece of A4 containing all my sperm's vital statistics. 'It's a good sample,' he says, 'so you're all right.' I'll spare you the details.

On one hand this is a relief, but on the other it means I've no alibi, no excuses, I'm ready to breed. All I need now is a woman.

Paternity frights: ten bus-pass fathers
Julio Iglesias Sr, a dad at 89

Nobody could accuse the gynaecologist father of Julio and grandfather of Enrique, and who was head of a Madrid family-planning unit, of not taking his work home with him. After having two children with his first wife, he remarried and, at 89, when his wife was 40, produced another son. Barely out of the maternity ward, Ronna signed up for IVF and within a few months was pregnant again. Tragically, filling a test-tube turned out to be the former Franco supporter's last significant act: two months later he was muerto. His daughter Ruth was born posthumously seven months later in July 2006.

Dad-speak: 'At my age, a child is marvellous. I felt just like Abraham. It was an act of generosity towards her [Ronna]. I leave her part of my blood, of my life.'

Saul Bellow, a dad at 84

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist had four children: three sons with his first three wives, and a daughter, Naomi-Rose, with his 41-year-old fifth wife. He died when she was five, in 2005. Writing two months after his death, one of his sons, Adam, whose mother Bellow left when he was two, recalled 'a fond but highly attenuated bond with a frequently distracted, often absent and much older father.'

Dad-speak: 'Well, my wife won't be lonely when I die. She'll have somebody'

Anthony Quinn, a dad at 81

The star of more than 100 movies, including Zorba the Greek and The Guns of Navarone, enjoyed procreating. He had five children with his first wife Katherine, the daughter of Cecil B DeMille, three with the second, then at the age of 81, he got his 29-year-old secretary pregnant, married her and had two children. The double Oscar-winner also squeezed in three more children with women he wasn't married to before he died in 2001.

Dad-speak: [of his penultimate child] 'She's beautiful, she looks like me'

Rupert Murdoch, a dad at 72

The Australian-American global media mogul (real first name Keith) has been married three times. He produced one child with the first and three (Elizabeth, James and Lachlan) during a 31-year marriage to the second. Seventeen days after the $1.2bn divorce, the Dirty Digger married former photographic model Deng Wendi (she transposed her names post nuptials), a 30-year-old executive at his Asian Star TV channel. They have two children, the most recent in July 2003.

Dad-speak: 'All my children will be treated equally'

Des O'Connor, a dad at 72

The former Countdown host has been married four times and has four grown-up daughters. His current wife, the 37-years-younger singer/dancer Jodie, who he met in 1990, when they were doing panto together, provided him with a son in September 2004.

Dad-speak: 'When the baby was born the odd comment was made about my age, but I plan to play football with Adam'

Luciano Pavarotti, a dad at 67

The well-upholstered tenor had three daughters with his first wife, who he stayed with for 35 years. Then, in 1996, he left her for his secretary, Nicoletta - 36 years his junior. In 2003 she gave birth to twins, another daughter and a son; tragically, the latter was stillborn. 'The King of the High Cs' died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer just before his youngest daughter's fifth birthday.

Dad-speak: 'I never imagined that at this time of life I would have another child. But I met Nicoletta, and she is young'

Warren Beatty, a dad at 62

After years of womanising (Natalie Wood, Julie Christie, Isabelle Adjani, Vivien Leigh, Cher, Madonna, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Britt Ekland, Diane Keaton, Mary Tyler Moore, Janice Dickinson and Faye Dunaway to name a few) he plumped for Annette Bening. They've had four kids, the latest of whom was born in 2000. I think we can assume fatherhood has mellowed Warren.

Dad-speak: 'We're fortunate to have a big house'

Rod Stewart, a dad at 60

The rooster-haired senior citizen has been breeding for 41 years. He's had seven children by five different women, although modest Rod often downgrades to six offspring, passing over his first, who was put up for adoption: 'You can count her if you want. I try not to,' he once said. Penny Lancaster provided him with his sixth/seventh, Alastair, in 2005. According to his brother Don, Rod prefers to leave Alastair's nappy-changing and feeding to the hired help. Unperturbed, 37-year-old Penny has dropped heavy hints she'd like a second with the 63-year-old Celtic fan.

Dad-speak: 'I didn't see my oldest kids a lot as they were growing up. I don't feel any guilt, but maybe having a family is something Rachel and Alana and I should have thought about more before we had children'

Michael Douglas, a dad at 58

The Basic Instinct star had a son, Cameron, with Diandra Luker, his wife of 23 years. She divorced him in 2000. Later that year he ran into Catherine Zeta Jones and seduced her with the admirably direct and honest line: 'I'd like to father your children.' True to his word he hasn't let the 25-year age gap stop him from impregnating her twice, when he was 55 and 58.

Dad-speak: 'It's not that I didn't enjoy it the first time, but I just didn't have the time. I'm not the only father who has felt guilty about the lack of time spent with his kids. So now I have a situation where I can savour it with my younger children. And you can see the effect of hanging out with them for three years and the security they have. And for me, it's a ball. Movie roles come and go and it's a finite period of time. This is sort of eternal'

John Humphrys, a dad at 56

The Welsh son of a hairdresser and French polisher has been married twice. The first wife provided the Mastermind host with two children, now both grown up. He remarried in 1987 and, after a reverse vasectomy, the Today programme interrogator became a proud father to a son, Owen.

Dad speak: 'I thought I might resent this little kid for buggering up my life, as it were. The opposite has happened to me because of him. He's the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me'
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Men over 31 have more autistic children too

One in six Scots kids has difficulty learningObsessive Compulsive Disorder Conference 2008: Taking Action To Tackle Obsessive Compulsive Disorder »Children of men who are over 40 are about six times more likely to be autistic than those of men who are under 30
Will My Next Child Be Born With Autism?

Although autism has become a fairly common disorder, there is still a lot that it not understood about it. One of the things that are the least clear is what causes autism. There has been a great deal of speculation about the reasons for its occurrence, but there has been little evidence to support most of these theories.

One of the most accepted ideas about the cause of autism is that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to it. However, that doesn’t mean that children who inherit the unknown gene will certainly be autistic. It is thought that many people have the gene, but the only ones who develop autism are those that are exposed to some sort of environmental catalyst. This could potentially explain why the numbers of autism sufferers have grown exponentially in recent years.

The idea of an autism gene is disheartening for parents of autistic children who would like to have more kids. They worry that because one child has autism, any other children they have will also be autistic. But this is not necessarily true.

Studies have shown that parents of an autistic child have a one in twenty chance of having another autistic child. In the general population, the chance of a child being autistic is one in 150. So while it does appear that there is an increased risk for siblings of autistics, they are not absolutely destined to be autistic themselves.

Studies have also indicated a possible correlation between certain traits in parents and relatives and an increased chance of autism in a child. These include autism-like characteristics such as impaired social and communication skills and emotional problems such as bipolar disorder.

Children who have certain other medical conditions are also more likely to end up with autism. These include fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, and epilepsy. Another risk factor is advanced age of the child’s father. Children of men who are over 40 are about six times more likely to be autistic than those of men who are under 30.

While there are certain risk factors that have been discovered, it’s simply not possible to predict whether or not a child will be autistic. Some autistic children have all of the genetic factors associated with the disorder, but many children with no apparent risk factors are also autistic. And some kids with all of the risk factors do not develop autism.

The good news is that doctors are studying autism like never before, and they are getting closer to finding the answers every day. And once the cause is determined, we will be much closer to seeing a cure or means of prevention.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Older parents, epigenomics and psychiatric illness

Older parents, epigenomics and psychiatric illness
2008-11-11 — Dave Bath
Nature’s British Journal of Pharmacology has (for free!) an editorial that is getting my nose twitching, and pushes me to speed up a Balneus post that has been brewing for a while. The growing literature on the diseases of children caused by advanced parental age suggests that the societal pattern of people building their careers before having children needs to be reviewed by social policy makers.

"Epigenetic biomarkers in psychiatric disorders" British Journal of Pharmacology (2008) 155, 795–796; doi:10.1038/bjp.2008.254; published online 23 June 2008 (also as PDF is yet another paper stressing the importance of epigenetics in pathogenesis, and introduces a new word, "epigenomics" that relates to testing and markers.

Basically, the older the person (male or female) when conceiving a child, the more likely something epigenetic has gone awry and will cause problems.

Another relatively recent paper highlighted the relationship between advanced parental age and schizophrenia: "Aberrant Epigenetic Regulation Could Explain the Relationship of Paternal Age to Schizophrenia" Schizophrenia Bulletin doi:10.1093/schbul/sbm093 (advance publication 2007-08-21) contains the following:

In 2001, Malaspina et al showed that the incidence of schizophrenia increased progressively with increasing paternal age, the risk being 2-fold and 3-fold for offspring of fathers aged 45–49 and 50 or more years, compared with those of fathers aged less than 25 years.

It’s not just schizophrenia: autism, cognitive and learning difficulties, longevity … the list gets longer every year.

It’s a far cry from what we were taught at uni in the seventies: that old ova stuck in meiosis for 40 years accumulated damage (leading to increased incidence of trisomy 21 or Down’s Syndrome), but because spermatogenesis was continuous, older males didn’t cause such problems.

This raises questions about how social policy affects societal health perhaps more serious than the "diabesity" epidemic, as obesity is more easily treated than something caused at the time of conception (even before).

The easy recommendation is for ladies: ignore the flattery and bank balances of older men!

For males, it’s worthwhile trying to settle down earlier, do the parenting bit with your career on hold.

For politicians, this means that education patterns and work/life balance policies need some attention - unless we want each generation of teenagers to be nuttier than than the previous one.

Someone in Canberra should be crunching the numbers between the census details on parental age and epidemiology, taking into account greater diagnostic capabilities across the years.

I’m much relieved that at 48, my grandson is approaching 2, not only because of this research, but because I’ve got just enough energy to keep up with him for a couple of days (I stay with my daughter and grandson every second weekend on average). I’d be much less fun for him if my joints were any creakier!

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Harry Fisch-. His advice? "If my son or daughter was to ask, I'd tell them to have kids early -- and that's before 30."

Yo, dude, check your bio clock -- now
New studies warn that it isn't just women who become less fertile as they age
Sarah Treleaven , The Ottawa Citizen
Recently, I've had a lot of conversations about baby-making with my male friends.

"I worry that I might be too selfish to ever have children," said my friend Joe, 29, somewhat pensively over gin and cucumber cocktails. Ditto for Colin, who just broke up with a woman he loves because she wants to have kids in the next few years and, at 35, he just doesn't feel ready yet. Kids or no, they both feel like they have all the time in the world to decide.

I, on the other hand, just turned 30 and have been making a lot of jokes about needing an apartment with a second bedroom for my soon-to-be-frozen eggs.

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Font:****Lots of women wring their hands about having a baby. Not only do we have to worry about our plummeting fertility (which begins to tank in our mid-20s), but we also have to worry about job retention and advancement once those kids (come biology, adoption or surrogacy) eventually appear. And it's the physical limitations of the female ability to procreate that have placed such a heavy emphasis on the reproductive biological clock, shaping the way many women live, work and even date.

But evidence is increasingly emerging that men, too, have a reproductive biological clock -- and that it ticks much more loudly than most of us have thought. Even as stories occasionally emerge about septuagenarian and octogenarian men becoming proud papas -- author Saul Bellow, for example, fathered a child at 84 -- several recent studies are challenging the conventional wisdom that men have an invincible ability to procreate.

A French study released in July found that women's pregnancy rates drop and miscarriages increase when the mother is over 35 and the father is over 40. Another study suggests that a man's fertility begins to decrease as early as his 20s. Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory tested men between the ages of 22 and 80, and found that semen volume and sperm motility were both significantly compromised by aging.

Additionally, the increased odds for older fathers producing genetic abnormalities have been well documented, and studies have demonstrated that fathers over 40 are six times more likely to produce an autistic child than fathers under 30.

The numbers related to schizophrenia are similarly compelling. A study utilizing health databases in Jerusalem found that fathers over 40 were twice as likely to produce schizophrenic children as fathers who were under 25; for fathers over 50, the odds tripled when compared to fathers who were under 25.

Dr. Harry Fisch, director of the Male Reproductive Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and the author of The Male Biological Clock, says that he's been ringing the alarm bell for years.

"There's a female biological clock; we all agree on the decline in fertility, more genetic problems and a decline in estrogen.

"The same thing happens in men -- a little bit differently, but essentially the same," Fisch says. "Why is it important? Well, demographically more men and women are waiting until they're over 30 to have a baby."

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Increased Bipolar Risk Linked to Father's Age by Joan Arehart-Treichel

Psychiatr News November 7, 2008Volume 43, Number 21, page 18© 2008 American Psychiatric Association

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Articles by Arehart-Treichel, J.
Clinical & Research News
Increased Bipolar Risk Linked to Father's AgeJoan Arehart-Treichel
Older men are more likely than younger men to father children with autism, schizophrenia, or early-onset bipolar disorder.
Fathering a child later in life seems to increase its risk of having autism or schizophrenia, research has shown. And now it seems to increase a child's risk of having bipolar disorder as well, a new study suggests.

The study was headed by Emma Frans, a doctoral student in epidemiology
at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Results were published in the September Archives of General Psychiatry.
Sweden's Multigeneration Register, as well as Sweden's National Hospital Discharge Register, made this new investigation possible. The former, which has been in existence since 1947, gives demographic information about all people living in Sweden as well as about their parents. The latter, which has been in existence since 1973, lists all people living in Sweden who have been hospitalized for various conditions.
Using the hospital discharge register, the researchers identified more than 13,000 persons who had been hospitalized for bipolar disorder at least twice since 1973 when the hospital discharge register was started. Using the Multigeneration Register, the researchers picked out five healthy individuals who matched each of the 13,000 persons on gender and date of birth. In other words, some 13,000 persons with bipolar disorder served as subjects, and 67,000 other individuals served as controls.
The researchers then used the Multigeneration Register to determine the age of each subject's father and of each control's father at the time of the subject's or control's birth. Finally, the researchers used this data to determine whether there was any link between paternal age at the time of birth and an offspring's chances of having bipolar disorder.
A link was found. Even when some possibly confounding factors such as socioeconomic status, family history of mental disorders, or maternal age at time of birth were considered, the offspring of men aged 55 or older were significantly more likely—1.37 times more likely—to have bipolar disorder than were the offspring of men aged 20 to 24. And for early-onset bipolar disorder (defined as occurring before age 20), the impact of paternal age was even more pronounced: the offspring of men aged 50 or older were 2.63 times more likely to have bipolar disorder than were the offspring of men aged 20 to 24.

Thus, paternal age seems to be "an independent risk factor for bipolar disorder," Frans and her colleagues concluded in their study report. "Furthermore, our results indicate that the paternal age effect might be most evident in patients with an early onset of the disorder."
Why older men are more at risk of fathering children with bipolar disorder, or autism or schizophrenia, than younger men are is not known. However, Frans and her team suspect that it is genetic, especially since they found a strong link between older paternal age and early-onset bipolar disorder, which has shown greater heritability than bipolar disorder that occurs later in life.
Furthermore, Frans and her group speculated in their report, older men's genetic proneness to father children with bipolar disorder may be due to the fact that "spermatogonial cells replicate every 16th day, resulting in approximately 200 divisions by the age of 20 years and 660 divisions by the age of 40 years [and even more divisions as a man grows older. Thus] disorders associated with advancing paternal age could partially result from de novo mutations."
Women, in contrast, they explained, "are born with their full supply of eggs that have gone through only 23 replications, a number that does not change as they age. Therefore DNA copy errors should not increase in number with maternal age."
The study had no outside funding.
An abstract of "Advancing Paternal Age and Bipolar Disorder" is posted at <http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/65/9/1034>.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Federal Study Links Autism to Parental Age

Federal Study Links Autism to Parental Age
Date: Wednesday November 5, 2008
Posted in: Education, Funding, Health
Tagged: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Centers for Disease Control

The first-born children of older parents are three times more likely to be on the spectrum than those born to their younger counterparts. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control, the study found that children born to women older than 35 and men of 40, but the results are not conclusive due to other environmental factors which may affect those outcomes. Though the results of the study are statistically significant, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health warns that it should not bear heavy burden on family planning decisions.

Those factors that bear further investigation are: spontaneous mutations that occur in sperm as men age; fertility treatments that involve hormonal treatments and manipulations of genes during conception; and neurotoxins built up in the tissues of older, breastfeeding mothers, Durkin said.

Each 10-year increase in maternal age was associated with a 20 percent increase in autism risk and a decade added to the father’s age kicked up the risk to 30 percent, according to the study.

Read the whole article here: Parents’ age linked to autism in their children

Detroit News is also carrying the findings here: Parents’ age a factor in autism, research says