Embryo transfer (ET) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) have histories that go back to the 1890s. Long before the implications for human fertility were even considered, Walter Heape, a professor and physician at the University of Cambridge in England who had been studying reproduction in a number of animal species, reported the first recorded example of embryo transplanting in rabbits.
‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley was published in 1932. In this science fiction book, Huxley realistically portrayed the IVF procedure that is currently used. Five years later, in 1937, a notable editorial was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM 1937, Oct. 21).
In a watch glass: Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” might be getting closer to being a reality. Pincus and Enzmann successfully initiated pregnancy in the unmated animal by extracting an ovum, fertilizing it in a watch glass, and reimplanting it in a rabbit other from the one that provided the oocyte. This is a stride forward for the rabbit.
How was IVF developed?
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a well-known and widely-used fertility treatment that has been around for centuries. The history of IVF dates back to the mid-1800s when scientists first discovered that pregnancies occur as a result of sperm and egg fertilization.
In the early 1900s, the first infertility clinic opened in Massachusetts and research was done on hormones and their relation to fertility. In 1951, Dr. Landrum Shattles used protocols developed by Dr. Rock and Dr. Menkin to perform human IVF research. In 1965, Dr. Jones worked with Dr. Edwards in England and fertilized the first human egg in vitro. By 1978, Drs. Edwards and Steptoe in England had announced the first successful live birth through IVF.
After overcoming regulatory hurdles, the first IVF clinic was opened in the U.S. in Virginia. The field of IVF has since advanced rapidly, with the improvement of fertility drugs, the advent of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), the advancement of embryo transfers, and the development of comprehensive chromosome screening (CCS). The newest studies in IVF are focused on using Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
IVF has come a long way since its inception and continues to evolve and improve. The birth of millions of babies born through IVF is a testament to the history and progress of this field, and it will continue to shape the future of fertility treatment. IVF has changed the lives of countless couples who struggle with infertility, providing them with hope and a chance to start families of their own.
Betteridge, K. J. (1981). An historical look at embryo transfer. Reproduction, 62(1), 1-13.