Highlights of 2019: Blue Plaque unveiled to honour pioneer of IVF

In May 2019, the childhood home of Patrick Steptoe was commemorated with a Blue Plaque.  Patrick was one of the three pioneers of IVF treatment, who achieved one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in recent times with the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test tube’ baby in 1978.

There have been over 6 million babies born worldwide following IVF  treatment which was developed by Patrick Steptoe along with Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy at Bourn Hall.

Our Cambridge centre, which was the world’s first IVF clinic, was established by Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy after their success with the birth of Louise Brown and Alastair Macdonald, the first IVF babies.

The three pioneers of IVF treatment

Bob, Jean, Patrick at Bourn Hall
Robert Edwards, Jean Purdy and Patrick Steptoe at Bourn Hall in 1981

Steptoe was a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Oldham Hospital in Lancashire, with an interest in female infertility and diagnostics techniques.  In 1968 he met with Edwards, a Cambridge geneticist and embryologist shortly before Edwards achieved the first successful growth of a human embryo outside the womb.

Steptoe was an expert in laparascopy (a forerunner to keyhole surgery) that would allow the collection of mature eggs without abdominal surgery and he also had a large number of patients who would benefit from IVF if it had been available. Many of these women agreed to assist with the research by donating eggs.

Working in their spare time, with the assistance of Jean Purdy who was running the laboratory, the three began a difficult and frustrating journey to transfer embryos to the womb and achieve a live birth. This took a further ten years and succeeded with the birth of Louise Brown.

Unable to get the support of the NHS to set up a facility, the three gained funding from a benefactor to set up a clinic at Bourn Hall near Cambridge and began to develop the techniques that would transform the scientific research in to robust medical treatment.

Remaining at the forefront of IVF research and treatment

Pioneering work and research continues to this day at Bourn Hall and our Cambridge clinic houses a state-of-the-art research lab investigating what happens to women’s eggs as they age.

More information

There are many common reasons that couples struggle to get pregnant. Here, we outline a few in our Fertility Blog: Why can’t I get pregnant?

Almost 40 years since Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy set up Bourn Hall, we continue to offer support at every stage of your journey. Read more about the bespoke fertility support Bourn Hall offers.

For any specific queries, please contact our friendly team.

Related articles