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The Development of IVF

Have you ever wondered how The Development of IVF came to be? When certain discoveries took place? In this post, we’ve included some of the milestones that were reached during the process of developing IVF! It’s important to appreciate the hard work of countless scientists across the field who made this happen. 

Image by Sarah Pflug

The Development of IVF, Can you believe there was a time prior to the 1800s when we did not know what cells were involved in reproduction? We did not know that a sperm and an egg are required to fuse, forming a zygote that will continue to divide until it becomes an embryo, a fetus, and then a full-grown baby. After the discovery of microscopic sperm and eggs, our whole view of reproductive health changed. We started to explore the causes of miscarriages and infertility, and a multitude of scientific endeavors manipulating eggs, sperm and embryos in the lab followed.

One of the first assisted reproductive acts that were performed in the 1800s was artificial insemination. It ended in a miscarriage, but another attempt at insemination quickly followed, but this time donor sperm was used. Something to note here is that the couple opting for the insemination was not notified of the use of donor sperm. Such a lack of transparency is unthinkable in today’s infertility medicine. 

Then came some girl power! In the 1900s Miriam Menkin, a scientist in Dr. Rock’s lab made a serendipitous discovery that ultimately led to the success of Development IVF. She had finally stumbled across the fusion of a sperm and egg outside the human body, a discovery would have been undoubtedly delayed without her. By 1978 the world finally had its first-ever successful IVF pregnancy. The 1980s had more scientific endeavors in store for the world as well. Ovarian stimulation was a significant discovery.

Being able to control the ovaries to produce eggs just at the right time for collection, was a game-changer. There was a shift from using human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to using gonadotropin-releasing hormone and GnRH antagonists which allowed for more control over stimulating oocytes. This, however, also led to the discovery of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which is a side effect of excessive stimulation of the ovaries that can lead to renal failure and possibly even death. This may potentially be the result of the follicles as once they are in the body, they could produce high levels of estradiol. After this realization, physicians now monitor follicles after they have been stimulated and patients are continually checked to know if they are at high risk for developing OHSS.

Infertility clinics, one of the pivotal aspects of fertility care, were also created in the 1900s. It’s crazy to imagine a time where if a couple was struggling with infertility, there was not necessarily a place to go for help. Another crucial piece of the puzzle was our understanding of the importance of embryo culture. Ensuring that your embabies are growing in a healthy and safe environment matters! That is why developing the perfect medium for them to grow in is essential for their wellbeing. Sugars, growth factors, and amino acids are examples of what are found in this medium that supports the embryo during it’s critical initial developmental stages.

Today’s reproductive health looks a lot different from decades ago. Today we have preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) to find out whether an embryo has a genetic defect that might affect its ability to survive in the uterus or lead to health conditions once the embryo is a full-grown baby. This is done by removing a small number of cells from the trophectoderm of the blastocyst (Ie. the outer layer of cells of the blastocyst).

The DNA of those few cells is then multiplied to have a large enough sample of genetic material to “read” and then it is analyzed by genetic sequencing! Another development we have been able to make is to reduce the likelihood of multiple births. We realized that transferring one embryo decreases the chances of having multiple babies. Embryo grading systems are used in combination with PGT to know which embryos have a high chance of surviving in the womb. Embryos with the best chances of establishing a pregnancy will be transferred first.

The development of IVF is just a few of the discoveries and achievements in the field of reproductive medicine. There are a lot more, especially female scientists, that were essential to getting to where we are today. We can only hope that we continue to grow as a field and do our best to ensure infertile couples receive the treatment they desire and can finally hold their baby in their arms. Embryologists and medical professionals all across the field of reproductive medicine work to give parents that one beautiful moment that every mother and father dream of.

References:

Eskew, Ashley M, and Emily S Jungheim. “A History of Developments to Improve in vitro Fertilization.” Missouri medicine vol. 114,3 (2017): 156-159.

“The birth and history of IVF.” RMA Network