25th July 2003

25th July 2003 heralds the quarter century anniversary of the birth of the first ‘test-tube baby’, Louise Brown. The British Fertility Society (BFS) would like to take this opportunity to wish Louise a very happy birthday and to look forward to the next 25 years of assisted conception.

Infertility strikes one in six couples for many different reasons. Since Louise was born in 1978 it is estimated that 60,000 UK women have become pregnant through IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and other assisted conception techniques. IVF remains the most commonly used infertility treatment but other methods such ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) are also now used. ICSI, for example, which was developed in the early ‘90s, has improved chances for couples with male factor problems.

IVF in the Future

Professor Alison Murdoch, Chair of the BFS, said ‘The next step for assisted conception is to better understand how a very early immature egg develops to enable it to be fertilised. Being able to replicate this in vitro would mean that immature ovarian tissue could be stored and used for several treatments.

This would significantly reduce the stress and discomfort currently associated with the physical procedures involved in IVF. Women would no longer need to go through the complicated and inconvenient process of taking drugs to make them ovulate at the appropriate time, and one laparoscopy (egg collection) procedure would provide sufficient dormant eggs that can then be matured as and when they are needed for several treatment cycles.

The cost of IVF procedures would also be considerably reduced, a factor that would help bring UK access to IVF in line with Europe and hopefully banish the ‘postcode lottery’ of available NHS treatment.

Professor Murdoch commented, ‘The birth of Louise Brown, and many of the developments since, have shown that reproductive medicine in this country can rank with the best in the world. For the future, we must strive to give more patients the chance to become parents. We must improve IVF success rates, decrease multiple births and minimise patient stress. To achieve this we need better ethical and financial support for further research into egg and embryo development and improved NHS funding to catch up with the rest of Europe in availability of treatment.