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World's First IVF Mom Paved Way for Many More

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a blog by Claire, June 21, 2012

Lesley Brown, the British woman who became the mother of the world's first baby via in vitro fertilization (IVF), died on June 6 at the age of 64. This "quiet and private" woman, according to her daughter Louise, took a brave, important step of trying IVF in order to conceive a child, and she made history on July 25, 1978, when she successfully delivered her daughter.

"Lesley Brown’s courage and forward thinking paved the way for millions of families today who have utilized in vitro fertilization therapy," says Pavna Brahma, M.D., a fertility doctor with Reproductive Biology Associates of Atlanta. "Our field will be forever indebted to her for being a visionary and a true inspiration."

At the time of the birth, the infant, Louise, was called a "test tube baby" by the media in sensational headlines across the globe — even though, it's important to point out, the egg was fertilized in a petri dish, not the sexier test tube. "Test-Tube Baby Girl" proclaimed the headline on the front page of Britain's Daily Mirror.

The dramatic pregnancy and birth were the result of the collaborative work of Patrick Steptoe, M.D., a gynecologist, and Robert Edwards, Ph.D., a physiologist. The two met in 1971 and spent several years perfecting their technique of fertilizing and maintaining a human egg and early embryo outside the body — "in vitro." In 1975, the two did successfully transfer a human embryo into a woman's body; however, an ectopic pregnancy developed, and the embryo had to be removed along with the fallopian tube.

Several years later, they found success. Lesley Brown met Dr. Steptoe when her doctor referred her to him in late 1976. She and her husband John had been trying to have a baby for almost a decade, but her fallopian tubes were blocked. According to reports, the couple did not realize the procedure, which seemed like science fiction at the time, had not yet been successful.

Dr. Steptoe surgically removed an egg from Lesley Brown's ovary on November 10, 1977, and had an eight-cell embryo two nights later. He transferred the embryo into Lesley Brown, she became pregnant, and 5 pound, 12 ounce Louise Joy Brown was born by cesarean section the following July. Drs. Steptoe and Edwards published their success in the journal Lancet, and a few years later, Louise was joined by a younger sister, Natalie, also conceived via IVF.

In 2010, Dr. Edwards received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on IVF. Dr. Steptoe died in 1988. Today, close to 4 million IVF babies have been born, and IVF has become a fairly routine procedure to treat a wide variety of fertility problems, not just fallopian tube blockages. Originally created to help the traditional married couple, fertilization outside the womb is now used to build families for gay couples, single women or men, and older women. Advances such as donor eggs, sperm and embryos; surrogacy; and


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