Back in July 1978, Leslie Brown became the proud mother of her first child, Louise. The birth of a single baby girl may not sound like groundbreaking news, but Louise was the first baby created by IVF. A study now estimates that she has been joined by another five million people worldwide born thanks to assisted reproductive technologies (ART).
This figure was presented at the 28th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Istanbul, Turkey, and includes babies born after IVF and ICSI. In the latter technique, the sperm is injected directly into the egg as a step of IVF.
Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, told BBC News: 'I think it's significant that we've got to five million. It's far more socially acceptable than it has been over the last 10 or 20 years'.
Talking to the Daily Telegraph, he added: 'I think it's more than just older women relying on IVF. I think it's more about accessibility, social acceptability, funding issues and, to an extent, that IVF is part of the mainstream now'.
The International Committee for Monitoring ART (ICMART) calculated the numbers by using reported figures from 1978 to 2008, and then estimating figures for 2009 to 2012. ICMART data suggest that around 1.5 million ART cycles are now performed globally each year, leading to around 350,000 babies, and the numbers are rising.
But such data does show how many failures there still are in IVF treatment. Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist and director of IVF at Hammersmith Hospital, told BBC News that advances in IVF could lead people to 'view IVF as an insurance policy that they can access at any stage. Unfortunately the facts still suggest that IVF success rates in women as they get older are not fantastic'.
The ICMART data further illustrates how demand for IVF continues to grow. In Europe 532,260 IVF treatment cycles were performed in 2008, increasing to 537,287 in 2009.
Leslie Brown, Louise Brown's mother, died last month (reported in BioNews 662). She had a second daughter through IVF, Natalie (the 40th IVF baby), as well as a stepdaughter and five grandchildren. Natalie was the first person conceived via IVF to have a child herself (conceived naturally) and Louise also has a naturally-conceived child.Dr Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility, UK, and a member of the Edwards and Steptoe group in Cambridge responsible for the birth of Louise Brown said: 'I remember well the time of Louise's birth, and also transferring the embryo that became her sister – both of whom are now mums in their own right. The five million milestone not only justifies all the legal and moral battles, the ethical debates and hard-fought social approval, it is also a testament to the great scientists and doctors who have worked so hard to improve the treatment of patients, and to the patients themselves who have put their faith in us'.