Louise Brown celebrates World Embryologist Day at Bourn Hall

Happy 45th birthday Louise! Louise, ‘the world’s first test-tube baby’, met Adam Burnley, Regional Lead Embryologist at Bourn Hall, to mark “World Embryologist Day’. Adam is one of the first IVF embryologists, having begun his career working with pioneers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards.

Developing embryology techniques 

“When I started at Bourn Hall in 1986 Patrick Steptoe and Bob Edwards were still working at the clinic and Louise was a toddler,” says Adam.

During those early days, embryology was still evolving and Adam saw the development of techniques such as the manipulation of sperm and eggs using a micropipette under a microscope, which is now a core skill for an embryologist.

“Our understanding of the science has come a long way but the techniques developed by Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy are still widely used today,” he observes.

Adam Burnley and Louise Brown at Bourn Hall
Adam Burnley and Louise Brown at Bourn Hall

Bourn Hall was one of the first to introduce blastocyst culture, which offers high rates of success. In this procedure, embryos are allowed to develop for up to five days in a Petri-dish before implantation, to ensure that cell division and growth is progressing and the embryos can reach the blastocyst stage. The embryologists monitor the progress carefully as not all embryos have the potential to reach the blastocyst stage, but when they do the chance of pregnancy is increased.

More recently it has extended this monitoring with the introduction of time-lapse technology. Adam observes: “Where previously embryos had to be removed from an incubator to be examined or graded, this is now no longer necessary as time-lapse technology and the capturing of images allows us to see embryos in situ, removing the need to disturb them, whilst also providing further insights into embryo development.”

“Being an embryologist is a very rewarding job,” says Adam. “I get enormous satisfaction from helping people become parents.”

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