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40 YEARS OF IVF – FROM TEST TUBE BABY TO TECHNOLOGY

It will soon be 40 years since the first baby conceived through IVF was born. Louise Joy Brown arrived in the UK on 25 July 1978 by Caesarean section. It was a moment that rocked the world. From acclaim for the super-powers of science to a grave warning from the Vatican it was an event that defined a new era for fertility.

The doctors who successfully created the world’s first ‘test tube baby’ had been working on their project at a time when embryology was not even a field of study. Sir Robert Edwards, Dr Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy were the trio and their work formed the basis for IVF as we know it. Since then it is estimated that six and a half million babies have been born through IVF and, as success rates climb, that number is steadily growing.

The term ‘test tube baby’ was coined by Peter Harris, the then medical correspondent for The Guardian. He used it to simplify the complex procedures involving laproscopy, petri dishes and incubators which were part of the process – and it stuck, at least for a decade or so after.

Says Dr Johannes van Waart, “While we can’t yet guarantee the success of an IVF procedure, the process is becoming increasingly precise. We use Embryoscope technology in our laboratories that allow us to see a very deep level of detail into the egg, sperm and embryo. We opened Wijnland ten years ago and so much has already changed. I can only imagine that the next 40 years will be very interesting!”

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