Lord Robert Winston cautions that advances in infertility therapies may be hindered by over-regulation

Jul 2018

Lord Professor Robert Winston cautions that advances in infertility treatments may be being hampered by unnecessary over-regulation, in an editorial accompanying a special issue of the journal Reproduction.

Fertility problems can be a painful and distressing health issue for many but Lord Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, has suggested that unnecessary and restrictive legislation may be impeding new research and the development of better treatments that could improve patient outcomes.

As guest editor of a special issue of Reproduction celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first successful human IVF baby, Lord Winston highlights concerns that advances in the field of reproductive medicine may be being hampered by a lack of fundamental academic research, which may be a result of regulatory bureaucracy.

Although there have been over six million births as a result of IVF in the last 40 years, success rates remain relatively low worldwide, with less than 21% of IVF cycles resulting in a live birth in the UK. In addition, although there is a perception that IVF is the treatment of choice for fertility problems, the best treatment depends on the underlying causes of infertility, and other more targeted and cheaper treatments may actually be more effective.

Lord Winston believes that more advances in this area of reproductive health could and should have been made by now, suggesting that “It must be possible to improve IVF beyond a 1 in 5 success rate but more research is needed and in many countries this has declined and randomised clinical trials are rare.”

He raises concerns that the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA) in the UK requires various bureaucratic interventions before granting research licences, which may discourage academics from pursuing research in this area and that research ethics committees should be sufficient for approval.

Lord Winston cautions, “Restrictive regulation, when it seems irrational, risks professionals evading regulatory intervention and encouraging fertility tourism to less regulated countries. This is not in the interests of good medicine or good for patients.”

Lord Winston therefore urges that promoting “research that is sensibly scrutinised and responsibly undertaken,” will lead to better treatments for fertility issues and greater improvements in patient care.

The special issue of Reproduction: ‘The 40th anniversary of human IVF: Time to celebrate and time to reflect’ features an introductory video by Lord Winston and articles from other leading reproductive experts on the history, development, and future of IVF, including reviews on female fertility preservation, genetics and embryo selection, alternative fertility treatments and male fertility issues.




Notes for Editors

The editorial “The 40th anniversary of human IVF: Time to celebrate and time to reflect” will be published in Reproduction on 11 July 2018. 

Reproduction is the official journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility and is published by Bioscientifica, an innovative and agile publisher. Bioscientifica collaborates with learned societies worldwide to develop new and existing quality products that meet the ever-changing needs of the biomedical community. Our publishing portfolio includes journals and online resources, including Journal of Endocrinology, Endocrine-Related Cancer, Endocrine Connections, Bone Abstracts and Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports. Bioscientifica is a wholly-owned commercial subsidiary of the Society for Endocrinology.