The First Test Tube Baby An Achievement That Helped Bring 4 Million Infants

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The advent of IVF paved the way for groundbreaking new treatments to help infertile couples. IVF treatment is particularly common in Israel, the only Western country that provides unlimited fertility treatments for a first and second child as part of its state-subsidized health care package.It is estimated that four million people worldwide have been born by way of IVF.In Israel, more than 30,000 children were conceived through IVF. A 2002 study commissioned by McMaster University in Canada that examined fertility treatments in 48 countries found that, on average, 289 rounds of treatment were administered per every million residents in the West annually. Israel topped the list, performing 1,657 fertility treatments per million residents, double the rate of the next country, Iceland (899 ).

The Nobel Prize in medicine went to a man whose work led to the first test tube baby, an achievement that helped bring 4 million infants into the world and raised challenging new questions about human reproduction.Robert Edwards of Britain, now an 85-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, lived to see the far-reaching ramifications of his hugely controversial early research.Today, Robert Edwards' vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world," the Nobel Committee said in Stockholm. It began with the birth on July 25, 1978, of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, to a couple who had been trying to conceive for nine years.

With in vitro fertilization, or IVF, an egg is removed from a woman, mixed with sperm in a laboratory, allowed to divide for four or five days, then implanted in the womb to grow into a baby. Today the odds of a couple having a baby after a single cycle of IVF treatment are about 1 in 5, roughly the same odds as a fertile couple trying to have children naturally.William Ledger, head of reproductive medicine at Sheffield University, said, "The only sadness is that Patrick Steptoe has not lived to see this day because it was always a joint team effort."

The Nobel is not given posthumously. It was not immediately clear why it took so long to honor such groundbreaking research. Initially, there was concern about the health of test-tube babies, "so it was, of course, very, very important that Louise Brown was healthy and that subsequent babies also were healthy," prize committee member Christer Hoog said.Despite the absence of Steptoe, committee secretary Goran Hansson said Edwards "deserves a Nobel Prize on his own" because he made the fundamental discoveries that made IVF therapy possible.A statement from Bourn Hall in Cambridge, England, the world's first IVF clinic, which was founded by the two researchers, said Edwards was too ill to give interviews.

That led Edwards to join forces in the late 1960s with Patrick Steptoe, who had pioneered the technique of laparoscopy at the Oldham and District General Hospital in north-west England. Steptoe's "keyhole surgery" technique made it possible to extract mature eggs from a woman's ovary.By 1970, Edwards had succeeded in producing eight-cell embryos. But more than 100 attempts to produce babies by re-implanting the embryos in the woman all resulted in miscarriages. In 1976, Edwards realised that this was happening because a hormone given to the women beforehand to stimulate egg maturation later interfered with the pregnancy itself.

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