40 Years of IVF

On July 25, 1978, the world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in England. With her birth a fertility revolution was also born, one that has continued to help couples and individuals overcome infertility obstacles to achieve the dream of parenthood.

In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is the process where a woman’s eggs are removed from the ovaries and injected with sperm through a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), or placed in a petri dish with sperm to fertilize on their own. After embryos are given up to five days to flourish in a laboratory incubator, an embryo is then transferred to the uterus of the woman who will carry the baby. Any remaining embryos are cryopreserved (frozen) for future cycles.

Worldwide, more than eight million babies - roughly the size of New York City - have been born through IVF. Each year, two million IVF cycles with ICSI are completed, and roughly 500,000 babies are born as a result. Reports show that the number of IVF procedures worldwide increases by 7% each year.

Fertility Centers of Illinois has achieved the milestone of 35,000 babies born, many of which were a result of the IVF procedure, making the practice one of the largest and most successful in the country.

While IVF initially caused an increase in multiple births such as twins and triplets, these numbers have steadily declined in recent years as IVF technology has improved and patients have embraced transferring one embryo at a time.

To get a better idea on IVF’s past, present, and future, we did a short Q&A with Dr. Edward Marut:

How has IVF changed?
IVF has changed in so many ways over the past 40 years. The first success rates were only 3-6%, whereas now a couple with a female partner (under 38 years of age) can expect a success rate of over 60%. Even older women using Preimplantation Genetic Testing can exceed that rate with a normal embryo.

Laboratory equipment and techniques have advanced significantly - we have higher fertilization rates through ICSI and incubate embryos longer prior to transfer. Single embryo transfer is more commonplace now, which has decreased the multiples birth rate and sets the focus on having one healthy baby at a time. Cryopreservation techniques have also improved, meaning that more eggs and embryos survive the thaw and result in a successful pregnancy.

Frozen embryo transfers match or exceed fresh transfers! Genetic testing and screening of embryos allows us to select the healthiest embryos with the highest chance of success. We also have the benefit of a large wealth of global medical research that has analyzed every aspect and factor in the IVF process. It is truly remarkable how far the industry has come in such a short time.

What future IVF innovations can patients expect?
Further refinement in genetic testing is occurring every year, to identify more abnormalities with greater precision. Other methods to select the best quality embryos are being developed based on cell division characteristics and metabolic parameters.

What is a common IVF myth that you’d like to dispel?
Just about every problem that can arise in pregnancy has been blamed on IVF. The fact is, compared to infertile couples who conceive on their own against all odds, the differences in pregnancies and baby are minimal.

What do you consider to be the biggest treatment breakthrough since IVF?
Preimplantation genetic testing has increased the pregnancy rate for older women, reduced the miscarriage rate, and minimized the multiple pregnancy rate since only the single best normal embryo is normally transferred.

Do you remember your first IVF baby born?
The Michael Reese program, of which I was the first Medical Director, had its first successful pregnancy in 1983, conceived on Labor Day, and delivering twins! My best example of why one never says never is a menopausal patient at Fertility Centers of Illinois who was told everywhere else to do donor egg; we tried, and successfully restored her ovarian function and she had a baby using her own eggs. That was one in a lifetime!