The History Of IVF
The story of the development of in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a fascinating one. It begins with Lesley and John Brown who had failed to conceive over a nine-year period. Lesley was found to have bilateral fallopian tube obstruction. Lucky, Lesley was referred to Dr. Patrick Steptoe in 1976. He suggested she was a perfect candidate to try a new procedure, still in its experimental stages, which would make her blocked fallopian tubes a non-issue.
A single egg was aspirated from one of Lesley's ovaries during laparoscopic surgery. Robert G. Edwards then oversaw the addition of John's sperm to the egg which took place in a laboratory. Just a few days later, the developing embryo was transferred to Lesley's uterus. The embryo blossomed into the first IVF baby: Louise Brown.
Louise Joy Brown, born on July 25, 1978 at 11:47 P.M., was delivered by cesarean section. Her weight was five pounds, 12 ounces, and she was graced with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Baby Louise has just turned 32. Her birth, just over three decades ago, ushered in a new era for those who suffer the heartache of infertility, in the form of assisted reproduction. This moment can only be compared to the first moon landing in terms of the awe and respect the event inspires.
But embryo implantation predates the birth of Louise Brown by almost 50 years in the form of the work of Walter Heape (1855-1929), a Cambridge, England professor and physician who reported the first known example of embryo transplantation. Heape flushed the embryos from the oviducts (fallopian tubes) of Angora rabbits and placed them into the uterus of a Belgian hare who had just been mated. The resulting litter contained 4 Belgians and 2 Angoras. Heape's work proved that embryos could be transferred to a different pregnant womb without any ill effects in their development.
This work of culturing eggs and embryos within a laboratory then piqued the interest of many scientists. George Pincus and his research team were at the forefront in showing that the eggs of various species would mature when released from follicles and cultured in a lab. By 1939, he was able to report that human eggs could mature in the lab within a span of 12 hours. However, it wasn't until 1959 that M.C. Chang was able to report in the journal Nature that a real live birth had resulted from egg fertilization in a laboratory followed by embryo transfer to the uterus.
From this early point, assisted reproduction began to really take off, giving hope to millions of infertile couples all over the world.