The Origins of IVF: Louise, the First “Test Tube Baby”

by | April 30th, 2013

iStock_000017963386Large-150x150Today in vitro fertilization (IVF) is practically a household word. Complicated, yet successful, it’s how thousands of couples are able to conceive each year. But back in the 1970s, it was still an experimental procedure with rare positive results. Until the pregnancy of Lesley Brown in 1978, women who received IVF remained pregnant for a few weeks before losing their baby. During this time, doctors continued to alter the steps to improve the birth rate of IVF.

The main difference with Mrs. Brown was that the doctors only allowed the fertilize egg to culture for two and a half days. With the previous women, their eggs sat for five to six days before reentering the uterus. While it’s unclear whether or not this allowed for the pregnancy to go long-term, the Brown pregnancy was an important step in IVF advancement.

Why In Vitro?

Translating to “in glass,” IVF is a medical procedure specifically designed to help couples who have difficulties conceiving children. With in vitro, an egg cell is mixed with sperm outside of the body. Then, after fertilization, the egg is placed back inside the uterus to grow.

Fallopian tube blockage causes up to 20 percent of fertility issues in women. These pathways allow the egg to travel to the uterus, but when blocked (or nonexistent), the eggs cannot be fertilized.

IVF’s Beginnings

Dr. Patrick Steptoe and Dr. Robert Edwards, the pioneers of IVF, celebrated their success in Great Britain in 1978 when Louise Brown was born. After successfully fertilizing an egg outside the womb, Louise marked completion to this growing science.

While it was controversial at the time, the scientists had accomplished a feat that was deemed impossible. Edwards, who passed away earlier this year, received a Nobel Prize for his work in 2010; Steptoe was not eligible as he had already passed away.

IVF and You

IVF is a proven fertility method for couples who have trouble conceiving. To learn more about the process or James Douglass, M.D., IVF Plano’s infertility specialist and reproductive endocrinologist, call today.


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