While every baby is considered a miracle, Louise Joy Brown was a miracle multiple times over. Born on July 25, 1978, she was the result of more than 100 years of cumulative research and experimentation on the human reproductive system. In The History of IVF – Part 1, we started with the discovery of the ovum, which took place in 1827, and the realization that fertilization takes place when said ovum is entered by a sperm (1843).
For the next century, scientists and medical professionals worked tirelessly to unlock the secrets of human reproduction in order to facilitate conception for those whose bodies weren’t facilitating it naturally. We left off with the successes of Gregory Pincus and Ernst Vinzenz Enzmann, who created the first in vivo rabbit baby. We’ll carry on with the discoveries that continued to be made around sperm, eggs and the hormones it takes to make everything work correctly.
The History of In Vitro Fertilization: From Rabbits to Humans
It won’t be a surprise to anyone battling infertility to learn that not all eggs and sperm are created equal. However, it took us a bit of time to learn this. While the concept behind IVF treatments was sound, the scientists performing the experiments didn’t yet realize that it took viable sperm and eggs to make it happen. In 1951, two scientists working independently of one another, Colin Russell Austin in Australia and Min Chueh Chang in the United States, realized that sperm went through a maturation process, and conception was only possible when a sperm was fully mature. Chang used this knowledge to perform the first officially documented IVF procedure to impregnate a rabbit.
For the next two decades, IVF experiments and research plodded along. While new information was gleaned on a regular basis, all of which helped to lead from one step to the next, nobody had any amount of substantiated success with IVF procedures in humans. In 1968, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe gave a lecture on laparoscopy at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. One of the lecture’s attendees was Robert Edwards, a professor of reproduction at Cambridge University. The two soon teamed up in an effort to make IVF a human reality.
After nearly a decade of failed experiments, ectopic pregnancies and frustrations, Steptoe and Edwards finally succeeded with an infertile couple named Leslie and John Brown. The British couple had been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for 10 years, the same amount of time Edwards and Steptoe had been working to conceive a baby in their lab. By this time, Edwards and Steptoe had a better understanding of how to manipulate hormone levels to stimulate egg maturation and release, and they knew to wait until fertilized eggs had divided eight times before implanting them into the uterus.
The IVF treatment was successful and on July 25, 1978, Leslie gave birth to a healthy baby girl she named Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first “test tube baby.” Since then, more than five million “test tube babies” have been born and the numbers of couples seeking IVF treatments each year continues to rise.
Research continues regarding the hows and whens of in vitro fertilization. How the procedure is performed, the number of embryos implanted, the use of frozen or live embryos are all determined on a couple’s particular desires, physical abilities and budget. IVF success has made it possible for tens of millions of parents to enjoy the magic of pregnancy and birth and it continues to be the most popular method of assisted reproductive technology (ART) today.
Perhaps it’s your turn to take advantage of more than a century of scientific and medical advancement. Contact RRC if you are interested in learning more about in vitro fertilization, assisted reproductive technologies or would like to schedule a consultation with fertility specialists.
Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net/Joseph Valks