OLDER SPERM THEORY

OLDER SPERM BELIEVED TO CAUSE AUTISM

The fact that pregnancy in itself is a biological process that has limitations with regard to age has caused many women to become more conscious about their fertility and the effect of gestation on the health condition of their offspring. Our understanding about the common autism-causing factors categorically includes pregnant women of advanced age, suggesting that soon-to-be mothers aged 35 and above should be more wary of the risks associated with their pregnancy. Unlike women, however, who have come to know about their age’s key role in the occurrence of autism, many men are still in the gray area when the topic of autism risks associated with older parents is being discussed. This is mainly due to the fact that compared to women, men can still become fathers even at a very old age and this wider range of fertility made them the lesser subject of study for these health risks. In this present day and age, however, the discussion about older fathers and their effects on the child’s condition is getting more attention as supplementary research and studies are conducted to further shed light on the connection between the age of parents to the risk of autism in offspring.

Advanced Paternal Age and Aging Sperm

If the advanced maternal age (AMA) is determined at 35 and above for women, the advanced paternal age (APA) is determined at 40 and above for men. Currently, there have been studies that show a positive link between late fatherhood and neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is reported that the chances of having an autistic child increases to 28% for fathers who are 40-49 years old, and even shoots up further to 66% when the father is at least 50 years old. This link is mainly suspected to be caused by the aging sperm from older fathers, which contain more mutation-causing genetic factors compared to men aged 30 and below. The aging sperm may be able to pass the mutating genes to the child hence the development of autism in newborns. According to Dr. Jason Kovac, an endocrinologist at Indiana University Health, the theory which points to aging sperm as the main culprit of autism in children is still fairly debatable, because the research and studies conducted to understand the link between father and child autism considers many other factors, such as alcoholism, smoking, drug dependence, and even the father’s lifestyle and diet. With these other variables present, Dr. Kovac said it would be hard to pinpoint aging sperm as the strongest factor which causes autism.

The Need for Research Focused on Finding the Cause

With the increasing number of autism cases throughout many parts of the world, there is an undeniable need for medical experts and researchers to focus their efforts on discovering the root causes of autism. In the US alone, it is reported that 1 in every 68 children is on the Autism Spectrum. When further broken down,  the statistics show a 1 in 42 chance for boys, and 1 in 189 chance for girls. Since 2000, the rise of autism cases has doubled in the US, and the overall global rate of increase may not be a lot different. According to a 2015 analysis of Danish autism statistics, of this rate of upsurge, about 60% is attributed to the increase of autism awareness in communities and the widening scope of the disorder related to its evolving medical definition. The 40%, however, may explain a pure increase in the number of autism cases at present. While efforts have been made to find and understand several linking factors to autism, there is still no single cause that can be identified at this point in time.

Other Explanation

While it is believed that the age of fathers and their sperm contributes a huge risk on the neurological makeup of their child, many experts also believe that this linear linkage may not be all there is to it. As a matter of fact, a 2015 Australian research paper authored by Peter Visscher and Michael Goddard opened up specific scenarios that somehow highlights the autistic tendencies of the father more than their age. These researchers raised the possibility that the fathers themselves may have exhibited autism features in their younger years and were only able to marry when they were older. As such, the autism-causing genetic factors that they carry may have been passed on to their offspring. This somehow weakens the theory that focuses on the father’s age.

On the Genetic Aspect

Medical knowledge about Autism has increased over the years that the cause of the disorder has been further known at the genetic level. Today, there are more or less a hundred known genes that are found to be linked with autism in several ways. However, experts are still convinced that no single genetic mutation is responsible for the development of autism.

Because of the subtleness of autism symptoms on the pregnancy stage, medical experts expressed that it is hard to screen out autism this early on. However, with the popularization of in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryo testing for autism symptoms may be possible if researchers can identify a genetic causative agent. Scientists believe that the application of embryo testing in IVF is not in a distant future but may only be a matter of one or two years away from now.

Through embryo testing, doctors can be able to detect autism-causing genes in the father and communicate this finding to the prospective parents so that they can be able to decide whether to look for a sperm donor or not.

There is still a lot to be done and studied when it comes to understanding the link between the father’s sperm and the risk of autism in the newborn. Many organizations and communities around the world are showing full support for these efforts through project funding and sharing of medical knowledge that would help identify the root cause of autism.