Fertility Blog

Firsts in Fertility - A Historical Timeline

Since the birth of the first “test tube baby,” we’ve seen a virtual explosion of innovation—from major improvements in the embryology laboratory to advances in cryopreservation to greater and greater accuracy in genetic testing.1

Here is just a sample of some of the firsts in fertility that have made it possible for millions around the world to turn their dreams of family into a reality.

1953. Successful live birth using frozen sperm.

  • A “dry ice” method of cryopreservation was used to freeze the sperm. Then, in 1960, liquid nitrogen was first used for this purpose.
  • In 1972, the first commercial cryobanks were founded. However, banks for freezing human semen had been suggested nearly 100 years earlier.2

1978. The birth in England of Louise Joy Brown, the first human conceived using in vitro fertilization (IVF).1

  • For nine years, Louise’s parents had attempted conception, which was complicated by blocked fallopian tubes in the mother.
  • Although called a “test tube baby,” conception took place in a petri dish.
  • Four years later, Brown’s sister became the 40th IVF baby.
  • Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards developed the procedure. Robert Edwards received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work.
  • Since the birth of Baby Louise, IVF has resulted in about 5 million babies.3

1983. Birth of a child using egg donation.4

  • The baby was conceived at Monash IVF in Australia.
  • The next year, the first American baby was born in Southern California using egg donation.5
  • The egg donor was fertilized by artificial insemination, then the embryo was flushed from her womb and transferred to the woman who gave birth 38 weeks later. This procedure is no longer used today.
  • Today, donor eggs are first harvested, then fertilized with the same procedure used for IVF patients.

1984. A successful birth from a cryopreserved embryo.

  • The baby girl was born in Melbourne, Australia.
  • From mother’s egg (ovum) and father’s sperm, the embryo was “frozen” for two months before transfer into the mother’s uterus.6

1986. A successful live birth from a cryopreserved egg.7

  • Following this first birth, cycles using frozen eggs yielded low pregnancy rates, possibly due to cellular damage during cryopreservation.
  • First introduced to experimental reproduction in the mid-1980s, a new technique (vitrification) reduced the risk of ice crystal formation and potential damage to “frozen” eggs and embryos.
  • In 1999 came the first birth from a vitrified egg.
  • Today, many clinics report comparable pregnancy rates with transfers of frozen and fresh eggs.
  • In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) dropped its label of “experimental” when referring to egg cryopreservation. This paved the way for a new era of fertility preservation.6
  • “Freezing” technology has also made possible the creation of donor egg banks.1

1990. Genetic screening to identify embryos without genetic defects in at-risk couples.8

  • Two couples at risk for genetic conditions successfully use genetic screening to find healthy embryos.9
  • Called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the technique involves taking one or more cells from the developing embryo to check for a specific genetic defect in the parents.
  • Since 1990, techniques of PGD have been perfected, allowing screening of many genetic-based disorders.1

Early 1990s. Introduction of preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) to help IVF patients at risk for miscarriage.1

  • PGS involves taking one or more cells from the developing embryo to screen for abnormal chromosomes in the embryo (aneuploidy)—thought to be the single biggest reason for pregnancy failure.
  • Since the advent of PGS, new technologies have been introduced, making it possible to remove cells from the embryo (biopsy) at a later stage of development and to fully evaluate all 23 pairs of chromosomes.
  • Called Comprehensive Chromosome Screening (CCS), this type of PGS was introduced in 2008. 10 It has resulted in higher pregnancy rates and lower miscarriage rates.11
  • Combined with other technologies, CCS has enabled greater use of single embryo transfer (SET), which reduces the risk of multiple births.

1992. Birth of four healthy babies (to 4 couples) following the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).12

  • Used primarily to treat male infertility, ICSI achieves fertilization with the injection of a single sperm directly into an egg.
  • Between 1996 and 2012, ICSI use more than doubled in the U.S.13

2014. Birth of a baby to a woman receiving a uterine transplant from a living 61-year-old donor.14

  • Born without a uterus but with functioning ovaries, a woman underwent IVF with her partner and cryopreserved 11 embryos prior to the transplant.
  • One year after the transplantation, she became pregnant after her first single embryo transfer.
  • There were 11 previous attempts at uterus transplantation, but this was the first successful live birth.

Sources

  1. Brezina PR et al. Recent Advances in Assisted Reproductive Technology. Current Obstetrics and Gynecology Reports 2012; 1:19.
  2. Sherman JK. Human Artificial Insemination and Semen Preservation. Chapter: “Historical Synopsis of Human Semen Cryobanking,” pp 95–105. 1980.
  3. Adamson GD et al. The number of babies born globally after treatment with the assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Fertility and Sterility. 2013;100(3):S42.
  4. Monash IVF. Egg Donation.
  5. Infertile Woman Has Baby Through Embryo Transfer. New York Times. Feb. 4, 1984.
  6. First Baby Born of Frozen Embryo, New York Times. April 11, 1984.
  7. Chen C. Pregnancy after human oocyte cryopreservation. Lancet. 1986;1(8486):884–6.
  8. ASRM: Mature oocyte cryopreservation: a guideline.
    9.Handyside AH, et al.Pregnancies from biopsied human preimplantation embryos sexed by Y-specific DNA amplification. Nature. 1990;344(6268):768–70.
    10.Wells D, et al.Use of comprehensive chromosomal screening for embryo assessment: microarrays and CGH. Mol Hum Reprod. 2008;14(12):703–10.
  9. Scott RT et al. Blastocyst biopsy with comprehensive chromosome screening and fresh embryo transfer significantly increases in vitro fertilization implantation and delivery rates: a randomized controlled trial. Fertil Steril. 2013;100:697-703.
  10. Palermo G, et al. Pregnancies after intracytoplasmic injection of single spermatozoon into an oocyte. Lancet. 1992;340(8810):17–8.
  11. Boulet SL et al. Trends in use of and reproductive outcomes associated with intracytoplasmic sperm injection. JAMA. 2015;313(3):255–63.
  12. Brannstroom M et al. Livebirth after uterus transplantation. Lancet. 2015. 385(9968):607–616.

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