On this day in history, Bob Dylan was booed off stage at the Newport Folk Festival for using an electric guitar, Bob Lemon replaced Billy Martin as the manager of the Yankees and the Cerro Maravilla Incident occurred in Puerto Rico. Far away, in England an even more memorable event was taking place. On July 25th, 1978, Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first ‘test tube baby’ was born. Last month, Dr. Peter Brinsden, Director of the Bourn Clinic (Cambridge, England) paid a surprise visit to colleagues attending the Midwest Reproductive Symposium* to celebrate this very special birth. Even after 33 years, Louise’s story continues to generate worldwide media interest. Her birth, through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), is still regarded as one of the most remarkable medical breakthroughs of the 20th Century. Her birthday also highlights the issue of millions of couples who try to have a baby only to find that they cannot. Infertility doesn’t discriminate. It affects both men and women and all races. It can be hormonal, age-related, genetic, illness-related (think cancer), or anatomical in origin – as it was for Lesley Brown, Louise’s mother who suffered from blocked Fallopian tubes. Infertility is a disease, not an inconvenience and affects more than 7.3 million couples in the US alone. Fortunately, about 90% of cases can be treated with conventional medical therapies or surgery. IVF is the process of fertilization by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. When the IVF procedure is successful, the process is combined with a procedure known as embryo transfer, which is used to return the embryo to the uterus. Louise Brown’s birth was a culmination of over 10 years of work by Dr. Patrick Steptoe, a gynecologist at Oldham General Hospital, and Dr. Robert Edwards, a physiologist at Cambridge University. Dr. Brinsden, who worked closely with Dr. Edwards, paid homage to his colleagues while attendees at the MRS toasted Brinsden, the Bourn Clinic and its success. Success, as measured by the ‘take home baby rate’ has been increasing every year since Louise’s birth. About 1 in 100 babies born in the US are conceived using IVF or other forms of assisted reproduction and today, more than three million babies worldwide have been born thanks to IVF. Louise’s life has been an extraordinary one from the moment of birth. Every detail has been photographed and documented; every milestone celebrated. But mostly, she remains a symbol of this procedure’s success and the delight experienced by those touched by IVF. From all of us at SRxA’s Word on Health, Happy Birthday Louise!
* The MRS, an annual CME program for health care professionals in Reproductive Medicine, is hosted by Fertility Centers of Illinois and chaired by Angeline Beltsos, MD (Executive Chairperson), Barry Behr, PhD, HCLD, and William Kearns, PhD.