The Developments of IVF

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

The Beginnings of IVF

The first attempts made in the pursuit to develop Vitro Fertilisation or IVF as a remedy for infertility were first recorded more than a century ago by a British zoologist Walter Heape in 1890. Heape’s research demonstrated that it was possible for embryos to be transferred after imbedding Angora-fertilised eggs into a Belgian Hare doe rabbit, which then in turn birthed an Angora.

The first IVF births from a mammal was documented in 1959 when a researcher at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in the US, Min Chueh Chang, revealed that it was possible to fertilise rabbit eggs in a lab resulting in viable offspring. It was Robert Edwards however who made real leaps in the fertilisation of human eggs, when working in Cambridge University in 1965 Edwards discovered how to mature these human eggs in a way that was suitable for IVF treatment and in 1969 her was successful in fertilising them.

In 1970 Jean Purdy and Patrick Steptoe at the Oldham and District General Hospital began their work in the development of IVF using Steptoe’s use of laparoscopy which showed that eggs could be retrieved this way from infertile women. The first pregnancy as a result of IVF was reported in Australia in 1973 by a Monash research team, however the pregnancy ended in early miscarriage. Three years later however the Cambridge team reported an ectopic pregnancy. Despite much hostility and unease towards their research, Steptoe, Purdy, and Edwards succeeded in the first human IVF birth in 1978.

The Ethic Concerns of IVF

After the first successful birth of Louise Brown in 1978 concerns regarding the growing of human embryos in laboratories began to grow. The main take on this was that scientists could not be certain of the outcome when implanting artificially conceived embryos, in fact many people were reported to be horrified by the thoughts that scientists could discard any living embryo which were deemed imperfect.

In 1982 there was even a serious debate from the Governments Secretary of State for Health and Social Services on whether or not IVF should be banned and if developments were to be continued how it should be regulated. In acknowledgement of how the early embryo is not the same as a human being or child, the limit for embryo research was implemented at 14 days. The UK today still abides by these recommendations, which were established in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 and is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The Secrets Behind these Developments of Human Beings

The capacity to fertilise human embryos outside of the body has given use for the first time a chance to study these embryos in a regulated environment and created the field of human embryology. A new technique that expands the time that human embryos can be grown in a laboratory has been developed in the same Cambridge laboratory in which Robert Edwards first did his basic research which opened the way for human fertilisation. Newly developed methods by Prof Magda Zernicka-Goetz and colleagues could reveal processes during the key stage of implantation around day six. 30 – 70 % of these pregnancies tend to fail at implantation and until this work, it was incredibly difficult to study.

However, the accomplishments made have also sparked an intense debate as the international guidelines and the UK legislation prohibit human embryos to be grown past 14 days, since only at this point in development does the embryo have a flicker of a body axis. This is also the latest stage at which an embryo can split to form a twin.

Altering Human Embryos

The capability to grown human embryos in the lab now means we have the ability to monitor for diseases and can control them more easily too. Ground-breaking gene editing research has been developed at the Francis Crick Institute in London by Kathy Niaken and her team using genetic surgery (genome editing, CRISPR/Cas9) to turn off genes in human development to research molecular mechanisms of development before implantation. Genes are the formulas to make the body’s starting blocks and proteins. Niaken and her colleagues focused on one individual protein, OCT4, which they showed was at work in the embryos cells by using a chemical label which glowed green.

Using gene editing, they were able to turn off OCT4 and assessed the effects with an unedited control embryo in time-lapse videos. Both the embryos sliced as they developed but when it came to the construction of a cavity, when the embryo is at the stage of implantation known as a blastocyst, the edited embryos were unstable and crumpled. They determined that OCT4 is vital to the proper development of a human blastocysts, a minute but significant step in the understanding of what genes is necessary for embryo development.

Next Generation IVF

According to Sally Cheshire, CBE, Chair of the UK’S independent regulator of fertility treatment, by the end of this century 400 million babies a total of 3% of the worldwide population, could exist as a direct result of vitro fertilisation.

The research that eventually lead to the birth of the first birth of an IVF baby not only revolutionised reproductive science, through preimplantation genetic diagnosis, but has also reinforced the origin of human cells, which has been crucial in the understanding of how embryos develop which has in turn helped to reserve certain species such as the rhino and is very likely to become essential in regenerative medicine when attempting to grow new tissues, organs and even artificial embryos.

Gas in IVF and stem cell development

Within the IVF and Stem Cell market nitrogen generators can be used to provide clean, dry nitrogen to incubators and other equipment which is essential to the process of artificial fertilisation of the retrieved ovaries. The provided nitrogen is used to create the optimum atmosphere for growing by balancing the pH (the acidity or alkalinity of a solution) in the growing medium. Nitrogen is then used again for mixing in the incubators in order to produce a specified gas mixture which is vital for the growth of the cells.

Generators are become more widely used for their on demand supply. As nitrogen makes up the majority of the gas mixtures used (85%) it is by far the most used gas within the process. The other gasses used are carbon dioxide (CO2) and Oxygen. depending on the application these can be used in different levels however the purity of them needs to be a close to 100% as possible without fluctuations in order to predict the correct ratios for the mixing process.

To find our more about Apex's nitrogen generators and their uses in IVF check out our related products below.

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