Test tube babies: How did it all begin?
Lesley Brown, the first woman to give birth after IVF treatment in 1978, has died following a short illness.
Mrs Brown, from Whitchurch, had two children using the then-pioneering procedure, Louise and Natalie.
She made headlines around the world when she successfully conceived and carried Louise to term, after treatment by Dr Patrick Steptoe and Professor Robert Edwards.
Her success gave hope to millions of childless couples around the world. Now, more than 30 years later, it has resulted in more than three million births worldwide. More than 12,000 IVF babies are born in the UK each year, and many thousands more worldwide.
17th Edition 8 way fuse boards prevent fires & improve electrical safety. Save £28 on 8 way fuse boards for a limited time only with A & D Electrical.
Terms: Bristol and Bath areas.
Contact: 0117 2448240
Valid until: Monday, May 20 2013
What is IVF?
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) means ‘fertilisation in glass’, giving us the familiar term ‘test tube baby’. During the IVF process, eggs are removed from the ovaries and fertilised with sperm in the laboratory. The fertilised egg – the embryo - is later placed in the woman’s womb, in the hope it will grow into a baby.
How did it all begin?
It was pioneered by Gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and his partner Robert Edwards. Both Steptoe and Edwards worked in the field of reproductive health before their collaboration in 1966, and were interested in problems of human fertility.
Edwards (1925-) had developed a way to fertilise human eggs within the laboratory, while Steptoe (1913-88) had perfected a method for obtaining human eggs from the ovaries using a laparoscope - a long, thin telescopic instrument. By combining these skills they were able to produce mature eggs at the optimum time to improve chances for successful fertilisation and development.
But despite promising early studies, the pair had a lack of financial backing to move their work on. After being rejected funding from the Medical Research Council, the duo were forced to find a private donation.
Lesley and her husband John, who had been trying to conceive for nine years, were referred to Dr Patrick Steptoe in 1976. He suggested she was a perfect candidate to try the new procedure.
But embryo implantation predates the birth of Louise Brown by several years - on 27 April 1890, Walter Heape transferred rabbit embryos from one mother to another. A professor and physician at the University of Cambridge, Heape’s work saw one animal become pregnant and deliver young from the transferred embryos.
In the years that followed, a number of scientists became interested in culturing eggs and embryos in the laboratory. In 1939 Gregory Pincus and colleagues achieved IVF of rabbit eggs within a test tube. In public he was portrayed as a ‘mad scientist’ messing with nature, and much of the scientific community shunned him.
In 1959 Min-Chueh Chang identified the essential conditions required for IVF.
How did the world react?
Some feared baby Louise – created outside the womb – would be abnormal, and it was only after her birth that minds could be put at rest.
Edwards and Steptoe, like Pincus, were accused of meddling with nature. Their research had sparked an ethical debate, with several religious leaders, ethicists, and scientists calling for the project to be halted.
Reflecting on that time, Edwards told the BBC in 2010: "Steptoe and I were deeply affected by the desperation felt by couples who so wanted to have children. We had a lot of critics, but we fought like hell for our patients."
Criticism continued after the birth of Louise Brown, but soon the technique spread and Steptoe and Edwards were showered with awards.
The procedure, which is highly interventionist, and can be painful and expensive, is still controversial.