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A toast to BioNews and Zoe, the world's first frozen embryo baby

30 March 2009

By Sarah Norcross

Director of the Progress Educational Trust

Appeared in BioNews 501

The very fact that the 500th edition of BioNews went out last Monday demonstrates the dedication of the BioNews team.

On Friday 20 March I received a letter from the landlord of our office stating that we would have to leave at 4pm on Monday as they would be starting work to remove asbestos in another part of the building. Ailsa Stevens, the Assistant Editor, immediately volunteered to come in at 8.30am. The BioNews Editors, Dr Jess Buxton and Dr Kirsty Horsey, both said they would edit stories which came in over the weekend on Sunday - Mother's day. Readers you may not be aware that they both have families and full-time jobs elsewhere. They also offered to complete the landmark edition and publish it once they had come home from work on Monday evening and had put their children to bed should Ailsa be unable to publish before we were evicted. Meanwhile I did battle with the landlords.

By lunch time on Monday I had negotiated that we could remain in the office until 6pm. The volunteer writers helped out by submitting their stories early with the work Jess and Kirsty did at the weekend and Ailsa's early start meant that not only did we publish at 5.30pm but also that Ailsa had time to write up two stories which broke that morning. I can't thank you all enough for the way you pulled together. The dedication of the BioNews team from the volunteers up is laudable.

Progress Educational Trust (PET) held a small party to celebrate the 500th Edition and 10th Birthday of BioNews at the Royal Institution. We wish that we could have invited all BioNews readers but with around 10,000 of you we should have struggled to find a venue big enough on our meagre budget.

Dr Jess Buxton and Dr Kirsty Horsey provided an insight as to how producing BioNews had changed over the years - no longer do we buy all the daily papers to cut out and photocopy articles, the availability of stories online has revolutionised that.

Jess reminisced how when she first started Juliet Tizzard (then director of PET) explained that BioNews was a round-up of the week's developments in assisted conception, human genetics and embryo research. Jess said: 'I couldn't help thinking, 'well this sounds like a very interesting newsletter to write, and very useful for people to receive, but will there really be enough news to write every week?''

Kirsty confessed that she had applied for the post of editor at the very beginning but been unsuccessful. She persuaded Juliet to employ her in the short term on another project until she finally got her chance to edit when Jess went on maternity leave. On Jess' return, BioNews had expanded to the extent that it required two editors, so since 2002 Kirsty has been the Reproduction Editor and Jess the Genetics Editor - an arrangement that meant they have both been able to spend time working on several other projects for PET over the years. Both Jess and Kirsty thanked Ailsa Stevens, Assistant Editor of BioNews, for her hard work, crediting her for the fact that now BioNews now regularly goes out on time.

Jess singled out a favourite story from her time as genetics editor, one from August 2005. She said: 'Charlie Whitaker, the boy who was once at the centre of a fierce debate over so-called 'saviour siblings', has been given the 'all-clear' by doctors. Six-year-old Charlie, who had Diamond Blackfan anaemia (DBA), received a transplant of cells taken from the umbilical cord of his brother James last year'. I can thank of nothing more awful than watching your child suffer and being helpless to do anything about it, and nothing more amazing than being able to bring another much-wanted healthy child into the world whose birth also enables you to cure your ill child.'

Finally, I was able to thank Jess and Kirsty for making my job as director so much easier because of the fantastic work they do editing it for BioNews. It appears in my inbox as if by magic just as it does in all of yours. All I do is write commentaries when they tell me to and solicit the jobs and opportunities adverts.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank the events other sponsors - ESHRE, Cook Medical and Isis Fertility Centre - for without their generous support we should not have been able to hold the event.

Planer plc sponsored the Australian bubbly so that we could toast BioNews and Zoe Leyland. Zoe was the first baby to be born from a frozen embryo in Melbourne 25 years ago this month; the embryo was frozen in a controlled rate freezer made by Planer. It seemed very fitting that we celebrated this birthday along with that of BioNews, as PET and BioNews are always mindful of the ultimate beneficiaries in all of our endeavours: those who are affected by genetic disease and infertility. Zoe's successful birth and the thousands of other children born from frozen embryos have brought immeasurable joy to those with fertility problems. Long may the developments in the fields on which BioNews reports - and Bionews itself - continue to thrive.

Finally, thank you to all of you who have bought raffle tickets and donated to the 500 FIVERS appeal. In these times of economic uncertainty inflation, stagnation and deflation we are no longer certain that a fiver goes as far as it used to do, so if you would like to donate a fiver or a little more please do so either online or by sending a cheque (payable to Progress Educational Trust) to Progress Educational Trust, 140 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8AX.

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