This was the day the first child conceived using in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) was born. Louise was born via planned caeserian in a hospital in England.
Contrary to the popular press fondness for alliteration, the technique developed by Dr Patrick Steptoe (obstetrician and gynaecologist) and Robert Edwards (physiologist) actually takes place in a petri dish.
Robert Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010. Unfortunately the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously and as Dr Steptoe had died in 1988, he did not share in the Nobel Prize.
For the many couples who were not able to conceive naturally this assisted reproductive technology has been a major step forward. There have been an estimated five million babies born using this technique during the 35 year period.
Certainly also the introduction of IVF has also raised much controversy in certain sections of the community.
In-vitro fertilisation is not just a few quick manipulations in a petri dish but is instead a complex procedure consisting of a number of steps requiring meticulous timing.
1. The eggs need to harvested from the ovaries. This entails generally injections of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) , which encourages the development of several follicles (sacs on the ovaries that contain eggs), this part usually takes a couple of weeks then the eggs are harvested.
2. The semen needs to be collected and the next step is indeed where a test tube is used as the most common way of preparing the semen is using a density gradient in the test tube which harvests the most motile sperm.
3. For normally motile sperm they are placed in a petri dish with the egg and left overnight. For sperm which are less motile a single sperm are assisted into the egg by injection and also left overnight.
4. The eggs are checked to see if fertilisation has occurred and if it has then the now embryo grows for around six days.
5. The embryo(s) are transferred via a small plastic tube placed through the cervix into the uterine cavity.
There are many causes of infertility both for the female and the male:
- Fallopian tube damage or blockage
- Ovulation disorders
- Ovarian failure
- Below-average sperm concentration,
- Weak movement of sperm or
- Abnormalities in sperm size and shape making it difficult for sperm to fertilize an egg