Mohamed Taranissi - "test-tube baby" doctor questioned

Panorama – on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm – has found evidence that the man named as Britain’s most successful test-tube baby doctor has been offering unnecessary and unproven therapies to women seeking fertility treatment, potentially risking their health by offering unproven treatments.

Mr Mohamed Taranissi, whose wealth is calculated by Sunday Times Rich List researchers to be £38million, has produced 2,300 babies in the past seven years for clients who regard him as a miracle maker.

But, although he is renowned for his personal dedication to his patients, his critics question the reliability of some of his statistics and some of his controversial treatments.

Mr Taranissi, who is interviewed in the programme, says he is a victim of red tape and angrily rejects allegations against him.

He is currently the subject of an investigation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) whose spokeswoman tells Panorama: “We’ve had unique problems in the regulation of these clinics. We have struggled to gain the information that we’ve wanted … we have struggled to gain access to carry out even routine inspections … we’ve been challenged at every step of the way.”

Panorama used undercover patients and secret cameras to investigate the private baby business.

The footage was then shown to some of Britain’s top fertility experts who were unaware of where it was filmed.

It revealed:

Mohamed Taranissi’s Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC) clinic in London offering a 26-year-old undercover reporter IVF treatment which could cost her up to £13,000 in some circumstances despite neither her, nor her partner, having any history of fertility problems.

The same clinic offering a treatment involving a blood transfusion of a concentrated mix of human antibodies. Treatment described by fertility expert Professor Lord Robert Winston as having “no basis, no justification”. Another expert, Dr Ashley Moffett, says: “We have no idea what they [the antibodies] will do to the baby.”

Following a blood test on the reporter Mr Taranissi’s clinician says that the “antibodies were found to be high”, and suggests that she enrols for immune therapies. But one of Panorama’s experts who sees the results describes them as completely normal.

The undercover reporter is told she needs blood tests involving 18 phials of blood being taken from her arm at a cost of £780. But Panorama’s experts dismissed the test as valueless – “peripheral blood from your arm has no correlation at all with what’s going on inside the uterus” (Professor Lesley Regan).

Panorama has discovered that many of Mr Taranissi’s older and harder to treat patients have actually been treated at another clinic he owns which has a much lower success rate than that of his main clinic.

And the programme has uncovered evidence showing that Mr Taranissi has also been defying the HFEA’s regulations and risking a jail term by continuing to carry out IVF treatments at this second clinic which no longer has a licence.

Watching the secret filming Professor Robert Winston comments: “… Frankly it makes you weep for the medical profession, because it is too embarrassing to watch. In my view it is quite shocking.”

Despite neither her, nor her partner, showing any history of fertility problems the reporter is offered costly IVF treatment.

A doctor at Mr Taranissi’s clinic advises her: “If it is IVF it is £4,000, so on this you need to add the blood tests.”

The ‘patient’ asks how much they are and is told: “They would go up to £1,000, £1,500.” Before the doctor adds that this is: “Per cycle and on top of that you have to add your medication, the drugs, that is another £1,500.”

On average, couples needing IVF can go through up to four cycles, which could equate to £21,000 at Taranissi’s clinic.

A second undercover patient with a similar medical status is correctly told she does not require treatment.

Professor Fauser said: “This is a 26-year-old woman trying to get pregnant for 11 or 12 months. You know, already issues like IVF and IUI were mentioned and in a condition like this they shouldn’t be mentioned at all. These treatments, you know, are way … should be way out of the discussion at that stage.”

Professor Lieberman said: “This 26-year-old has been led along a garden path of a whole lot of events which are totally unnecessary at this stage.”

The reporter is also given misleading advice – she’s told at Mr Taranissi’s clinic: “There is another procedure in which we look at the lining of the womb, cleanse the lining of the womb before we do the transfer and that costs £1,000.”

Responding to the advice offered, expert, Professor Bart Fauser, said: “These are all just magic words … completely meaningless…”

When Mr Taranissi was asked by reporter Kate Silverton whether he thought that the information given to the patient was misleading, he said: “I don’t think it is misleading because if you look again at the medical literature … I mean, it is … a known fact and there are actually scientific papers that have looked at that.

“It is something that could be associated with improved implantation … This can actually clean things inside the cavity or the tubes sometimes might be blocked and this can just flush them out.”

When the results of the immune blood tests return, Mr Taranissi’s clinician says: “Some of these antibodies were found to be high,” and the clinic suggests the 26-year-old ‘patient’ enrol for full IVF treatment involving a transfusion of antibodies and a course of steroids.

But on seeing the test results Dr Ashley Moffett, expert on Immunology in Pregnancy at Cambridge University, said: “Actually I did see the results, and they were all completely normal. So that it’s … having seen that these results are completely normal it is even more strange that he should actually say, this doctor, that she needs to go ahead with treatment.”

If the ‘patient’ did go ahead with this treatment, the full cost of the IVF cycle could come to around £10,000.

The treatment is available in two other clinics in the UK and some in the United States but some of the programme’s experts described it as untested and potentially dangerous.

Dr Ashley Moffett said: “These are antibodies prepared from thousands of people and the batches have a lot of antibodies that could actually react with cells of the baby’s. And these antibodies will cross the placenta. We have no idea what they will do to the baby.”

Professor Bart Fauser said: “One way or the other practices like this should be stopped in a civilised country. For me there’s no question about it. This is insane really, and this cannot be defended by any reasonable argument. I’m shocked. Unbelievable.”

Mrs Geeta Nargund, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at St George’s Hospital, said: “… it’s very sad indeed for this vulnerable woman to be in that situation where she’s being given this twisted information and, on top of that, a huge cost.”

Using the Freedom of Information Act Panorama has obtained figures showing how Mr Taranissi treats some older patients at his second clinic, the Reproductive Genetics Institute (RGI).

The birth rates at the RGI were consistently much lower than the ARGC.

Mr Taranissi says this is because they require specific treatments and not because it helps boost his success rate at his main clinic, a suspicion being investigated by the regulator.

When interviewed about Taranissi’s track record for compliance with the HFE Act and the HFEA code of practice, Angela McNabb, CEO of the HFEA, said: “The vast majority of clinics in the UK comply well with the standards that are set out. That hasn’t been the case with this centre.

“In fact, we’ve struggled to gain a good co-operative working relationship where we can resolve some of the issues that we have. And we’ve been challenged at every step of the way.”

Panorama has also discovered that Mr Taranissi has continued giving treatments to patients at his second clinic, the RGI – even though its license was not renewed at the end of 2005 due to a lack of required data, and despite it being a criminal offence to operate in an unlicensed clinic.

In an interview for the programme Mr Taranissi told Panorama that he continued operating his second clinic without a licence because he had: “… hundreds of patients going through cycles, and stuff like that … it was almost impossible for me to turn the patients away. There was no way I could have stopped…”

Before adding: “… I’m the one who is sticking his neck out for that and I don’t understand why should I be stopped from working because of paperwork.”

Mr Taranissi was asked if he was concerned about the potential health risks of the antibody transfusion.

He said: “We are worried but potentially anything that you do or drug can be seen in ten years or 20 years as having unknown problems. If we want to think like this.”

Mr Taranissi went on to say that “all the potential issues are explained in black and white” to patients.

About the author

  • rubbish

    There are so many errors in this where do I start. Are you aware that this Panorama program was the subject of a libel action which the BBC settled and paid Dr Taranissi’s costs? Do you you know that a high court judge ruled that HFEA boss Angela McNabb ‘seriously misled’ magistrates to get warrants to raid Dr Taranissi’s clinics?

  • Lemon

    You realise this was written in 2007, right? Two years before the settlement.

    In summary, it was correct at the time of writing, you fucking cretin.

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