New research reveals why the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) failed to fund research leading to the birth of the first IVF and embryo transfer (IVFET - in vitro fertilization embryo transfer) baby. The MRC rejected Dr Robert Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe's original grant application for 'studies on Human Reproduction' in 1971. The pair received private funding, and were ultimately successful, when Louise Brown was born in 1978.
The decision by the MRC to reject their application has entered the mythology surrounding the field of IVF, and is widely viewed as short-sighted. But the researchers, led by Professor Martin Johnson from Cambridge University, were given unique access to the deliberations of the review panel, and found that the decision to reject the application was complex.
They discovered many people at the MRC were positive towards the application, which contradicts the widely held view that there was 'widespread establishment hostility to IVF', but that a number of other concerns were raised.
The reviewers were concerned Dr Edwards and Dr Steptoe wanted to carry out the research in Cambridge, having offered them facilities at Northwick Park hospital in London. They feared 'clinical facilities and patient management' may be compromised. They were also concerned that population control should be an MRC priority, were worried about abnormalities, wanted primate studies, and were unhappy about the media interest in the research. This combination of concerns led them to reject the funding application.
The authors say that their study is 'the first detailed analysis of the role of the MRC in a landmark event in the history of reproduction'. The research: 'provides insight into the then dominant attitudes of reproductive scientists and clinicians towards human conception research'.
The paper is published in Human Reproduction, 24th July 2010.