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World's first IVF baby turns 30

21 July 2008
Appeared in BioNews 467

Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby, will next week celebrate her 30th birthday - but as parents and children born through IVF representing each year since Louise was born came together at Bourn Hall fertility clinic to mark the occasion, many commentators have pointed to the continued inadequate state provision for IVF in the very country that first pioneered the treatment.

Louise was born on 25 July 1978 at Oldham District and General Hospital after Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe performed IVF on her mother, Lesley. The news of the pregnancy generated a great deal of interest in the world media and Professor Edwards has told how Lesley even had to be hid in Patrick Steptoe's mother's house for her safety. 'We were concerned that she would lose the baby, the fetus, because the press were chasing Mrs Brown all over Bristol where she lived', he said. At the time, public attitudes towards IVF were mixed, with many opposing what they saw to be interfering with nature. 'The children at school used to ask questions like 'how did you fit in a test tube?' and things like that, but they could see I was normal, they could see I was the same as them', Louise told reporters last week.

Since then, around three and a half million women have undergone IVF worldwide with over 30,000 procedures being performed in Britain a year resulting in little over 11,000 births, accounting for 1.6 per cent of all births in the country. Yet despite the increase in the number of IVF procedures and births, Britain still lags behind some countries in Europe, such as Belgium and Denmark, where IVF accounts for around 3.5 per cent of all births. Fertility support groups point to the lack of progress made to improve success rates since 1978 which average at around only 15 per cent and - more critically - to a lack of provision for IVF on the NHS. Even though IVF is now considered to be standard treatment for infertility, reflecting how far attitudes have come, most trusts impose conditions on couples seeking publicly-funded IVF.

Only nine out of 151 PCTs in England are funding the recommended three cycles of IVF for infertile couples, according to the UK Department of Health. The latest figures reveal that despite guidance issued over four years ago, four trusts are still offering no IVF treatment at all, and 94 per cent are not providing the full three cycles recommended. Two-thirds of IVF procedures performed in the UK are private, where treatment can cost up to £8,000. Professor Edwards says that the NHS should do more for infertile couples. 'Every couple should be allowed to have three babies on the health service because this is the greatest gift that you can give any man or woman,' he said.

Although funding remains an issue, the technology surrounding IVF appears to be finally making further progress. Techniques such as metabolic profiling and PGS are being developed that may significantly improve success rates, researchers say. The techniques are yet to be introduced into widespread clinical use.

30th birthday for first IVF baby
BBC News Online |  14 July 2008
Medical miracles gather to mark the 30th birthday of IVF
The Scotsman |  15 July 2008
Race for secrets of IVF as first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, turns 30
The Times |  19 July 2008
World's first 'test tube baby' marks 30th birthday
The Daily Telegraph |  14 July 2008
5 October 2015 - by Sarah Norcross 
'My Life as the World’s First Test-Tube Baby' is a must-read for anyone who works in this sector – especially those who are too young to remember the circumstances around Louise Brown's birth...
25 June 2012 - by Cait McDonagh 
Lesley Brown, the first woman to give birth after undergoing IVF treatment, has died aged 64. She made history when her daughter Louise was born in 1978 at Oldham General Hospital...
11 October 2010 - by Professor Martin H Johnson 
Professor Robert Edwards was last week awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on IVF [1]. Bob might seem an obvious award candidate since IVF and related treatments are taken for granted nowadays. Most of us know family, friends and/or colleagues who have used IVF, PGD, surrogacy or gamete donation. During the lonely days of the 1960s and 70s, the situation was very different...
4 October 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
British scientist Professor Robert Edwards, 85, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine for his ground-breaking IVF work...
26 July 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
New research reveals why the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) failed to fund research leading to the birth of the first in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer (IVFET) baby. The MRC rejected Dr Robert Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe's original grant application for 'studies on Human Reproduction' in 1971...
30 June 2008 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Only nine out of 151 primary care trusts (PCTs) in England are funding the recommended three cycles of IVF for infertile couples, according to the UK Department of Health. The latest figures reveal that despite guidance issued over four years ago, four trusts are still offering...
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