As an A-level student, my knowledge of the history and processes behind IVF are limited, to say the least; but the Guardian's podcast, 'In vitro fertilisation: 40 years on', brought IVF's past, present and future onto my radar.
Presenter Hannah Devlin was accompanied by fertility expert Dr Raj Mathur, andrologist Professor Allan Pacey, Science Museum curator Connie Orbach and Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby born in July 1978. The academics brought an informed scientific approach: explaining the stages of IVF cycles, the different types of infertility then the revolutionary techniques that can overcome them. In combination with the first-hand experiences of IVF treatment, Louise and patients who provided an emotive, compelling account of their journey this made for an engaging tribute piece.
Devlin posed challenging questions throughout the podcast which made me feel engaged in the discussion and intrigued to learn about the research from the experts.
To provide some context for the otherwise baffled, Orbach described the timeline of IVF including an account of pioneers Professor Sir Robert Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe, and their course to a produce fertilised egg in the lab in 1969. My admiration for Professor Edwards, Dr Steptoe and their work grew stronger when I found out how much criticism they faced from other scientists as well as the public in the early days of their research.
Professor Pacey piqued my interest discussing intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), as male infertility is an area I'd heard little about. Many people are aware of IVF, but are unaware of other fertility treatments, myself included, so this was new information to me. Concerns, however, were raised that male fertility is not being properly investigated because ICSI acts as a workaround. Professor Pacey described this attitude as 'because we have a fix we have a solution', which really stuck with me as it challenged my scientific curiosity and I think more should be done to find out what causes male infertility.
Pockets of humour and references to popular books such as The Handmaid's Tale ensured the podcast wasn't overwhelmed by the heavy science but fulfilled one of its aims of celebrating the anniversary of a massive 'medical breakthrough'. Having said this, a podcast on IVF without detailing the science and analytics of it would be naïve so I was pleased to hear a lot of data on its development and applications, providing both evidence and intrigue.
My only criticism of the 28-minute-long podcast was that there was no discussion on ethical issues surrounding assisted conception which made it feel one-sided. Perhaps Devlin thought that would have spoiled the mood of celebrating 40 years of IVF but I thought some ethical debate should have been included.
I would recommend this podcast by the Guardian to anyone with an interest in scientific discoveries. It's an accessible starting point for someone new to the topic, but could also provide assisted conception professionals with a nostalgic look at the origins of their work.