I still recall the wonder of the first "test-tube" baby being announced. Louise Brown was born in 1978. She was conceived by removing an oocyte from the ovaries of her mother, Lesley, then placing the egg in a cell culture dish and exposing it to sperm from father John. The fertilized egg rapidly grew into an embryo of eight cells and was returned for gestation to Lesley. After a normal full-term pregnancy, Louise was born to great fanfare. I recall the event so clearly because Louise and I share a birthday.
Today, more than thirty years later, almost four million people have been born due to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Louise Brown has a child of her own – through natural conception. IVF is an established medical practice that brings joy to the 10% of adults that are infertile. The 2010 Nobel Prize was justly awarded to Robert Edwards for his developmental work in IVF.
Robert Edwards work on IVF started two decades before Louise. In that period, he made important discoveries about fertilization. He clarified how human eggs mature, how different hormones regulate their development, and when the eggs are susceptible to the fertilizing sperm. He also determined the conditions under which sperm is activated and has the capacity to fertilize the egg. But it was his collaboration with Patrick Steptoe, a pioneer in laparoscopy, which enabled Louise’s conception. A laparoscope is an in vivo microscope that can visualize small objects, like an oocyte in an ovary, and remove it to be placed in a “test-tube.” The two cemented their relationship following Louise’s birth by establishing the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, UK, the world's first centre for IVF therapy - a training ground for gynecologists and cell biologists interested in furthering the clinical use of IVF.
By, BioTek Instruments