More than eight million children have been born around the world as a result of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) since the first so-called test tube baby was delivered in England over 40 years ago.
Scientist Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe – the pioneering “Fathers of IVF” – took ten years of intensive research, trial and error before Louise Brown was born in Manchester on 25 July 1978.
Since that amazing breakthrough, assisted reproductive technology has advanced to the extent that today about 75 per cent of couples turning to IVF do ultimately achieve their dream having a baby through one or more cycles of treatment.
IVF, and associated male infertility factor technologies such as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) – where a singe sperm is injected into an egg to achieve fertilisation – have brought the joys of parenthood to many of the estimated one in six couples who have failed to achieve conception or a live birth after a year of unprotected intercourse.
But despite the fact that the world is now widely populated with IVF offspring, about 25 per cent of couples experiencing infertility will not be able to have a baby as a result of assisted conception.
A global congress on human infertility in Hong Kong today reflected on the achievements of Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe and the teams of pioneers who followed them in research and clinical practice to advance assisted reproductive technology.
But an Australian fertility specialist, and one of the globally recognised pathfinders of IVF, questioned why about 25 per cent of hopeful couples and individuals still fail to have the babies they so desire.
Professor John Yovich, who delivered Western Australia’s first IVF baby – being the second State in Australia to achieve success – is a speaker at the 9th Congress of the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction (ASPIRE 2019) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
“As we reflect on Louise Brown’s 40th birthday, it is appropriate to look back at the ground-breaking and innovative teams in the field of reproductive medicine, nine of whom generated live births in the four years following Louise Brown, and a further three soon after leading to the explosive establishment of successful teams in 1983,” he said.
“This time frame defines those IVF pioneers who relied essentially on their own resources and ideas to bring about the world’s first IVF-generated children.
“They were followed by other teams that were largely reliant on training and experience from these innovative pioneers.
“Collectively, they broke the back of infertility to achieve success in up to 75 per cent of cases, particularly younger patients.
“But, in my view, the necessary quest for knowledge through further research in this field has slowed.
“As IVF units proliferate around the world, the research necessary to address the problems of the 25 per cent of patients who fail to conceive after assisted reproductive technology is somewhat on the backburner.”
Professor Yovich said the trend for couples to delay parenthood until after their peak fertility years because of work or lifestyle choices was a contributing factor to the failure to conceive even after repeated IVF cycles.
He said nutritional factors such as necessary vitamin levels, and pre-occupation with body image to the detriment of natural health and well-being were also likely to be involved in infertility.
“We need to know more by exploring new research dynamics. For example, what makes eggs so fragile in older women and what is causing the decline in male fertility around the world?”
Professor Yovich, who is Adjunct Clinical Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Curtin University in Western Australia, said Australia had led the way with single embryo transfers in IVF to avoid multiple birth rates and the consequent health complications for mothers and offspring.
“The huge majority of IVF units in Australia voluntarily practice single embryo transfer,” he said. “Latest data shows that between 2006 and 2016 the multiple birth rate following IVF in Australia plummeted from 14 per cent to four per cent.
“Impressively, this occurred as live birth rates increased from 22 per cent in 2012 to 26 per cent in 2016.
“Furthermore, latest data in Australia shows that stored frozen embryos thawed for transfer achieve an implantation rate twice that of fresh embryos, and there is a big story to tell in this regard, particularly in the benefits of quality management systems.
“In other parts of the world, IVF units are transferring multiple embryos in IVF, sometimes up to five embryos in older women in the hope of conception, and this is resulting in undesirable multiple birth rates.”
The ASPIRE Congress at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre has attracted about 1,700 delegates – including scientists, clinicians, embryologists, nurses and IVF counsellors – from 50 countries to participate in a dynamic program that will help guide all future aspects of fertility preservation and assisted conception around the world.
For further information, go to the Congress website www.aspire2019.com
To arrange an interview with Professor John Yovich, please contact Trevor Gill, ASPIRE 2019 Congress Media Relations, on 0418 821948 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org