National Fertility Awareness Week is still needed, despite the advances in treatment since the first “test-tube baby” Louise Brown was conceived 40 years ago.
Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, has maintained its position at the forefront of this field of medicine supporting research in best practice and embryology to further the work of its founders, the IVF pioneers Steptoe and Edwards.
In her autobiography Louise describes the great affection and gratitude that she and her mother Lesley Brown felt towards Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. Without their commitment and determination Louise and nearly six million other IVF babies worldwide would not be here.
IVF has become a widely accepted treatment for infertility so it is hard to understand that in 1968, when Professor Edwards became the first person to successfully fertilise a human egg outside the body and take it to blastocyst stage (the point at which the cells in the embryo differentiate), Embryology was not even considered a worthwhile field of study. In fact, the enormity of this breakthrough was only fully recognised 40 years later when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology.
It was to take a further 10 years of work before the birth of Louise in 1978 – the first baby to be conceived as a result of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
A Bourn Hall baby born every 8 hours
In 1980 Edwards and his co-pioneer, the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, established Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge as the world’s first IVF clinic. It was here they went on to perfect the techniques that would help many people struggling to conceive. When Steptoe and Edwards first established Bourn Hall success rates were around 10%; pregnancy rates following IVF treatment have steadily improved over the years and recent developments are increasing success rates even further.
Now there is one Bourn Hall baby born every 8 hours and where NHS-funded IVF treatment is available according to the NICE guidelines, 8 out of 10 patients become parents.
Recent work at Bourn Hall has advanced fertility treatment through:
- Understanding of the egg development
- Improving stimulation control
- Creating a more natural environment
- Improving blastocyst technique
- Revealing the secrets of the embryo
The next big goal is to reduce recurrent miscarriage
Successful implantation requires cooperation from both embryo and uterus alike, yet much of the research that has been carried out to date has been focussed solely on the embryo. The process of implantation is known, yet the control mechanisms and dialogue between embryo and endometrium is poorly understood.
The next big challenge for reproductive medicine is improving implantation and reducing recurrent miscarriage.
National Fertility Awareness Week 2017
We are holding a Fertility Fayre on November 4th 2017 open to anyone trying to conceive, as more knowledge emerges about the human reproductive system so too do better ways to boost natural fertility. More information.
A fifty percent success rate was Steptoe and Edward’s dream when they first set up the clinic, now 59.1% of patients aged under 38 having a blastocyst transfer at our Norfolk clinic in 2016 achieved a clinical pregnancy.
We are looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in the next 40 years.
To read Louise Brown’s book.