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ART and Embryo Donation: A Short History

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a blog by Stephanie W. Moyers National Embryo Donation Center, April 5, 2012

In anticipation and support of National Infertility Awareness Week, April 22-28, 2012, I’ve put together a condensed but interesting history of assisted reproduction and embryo donation. My guess is that if you’re reading this you’re already familiar with the ups and downs of infertility, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “Do you know the rest of the story?"

The practice of successful human in vitro fertilization (IVF) is now in its fourth decade and has been a blessing to hundreds of thousands around the world by building families where none may have existed before. In many cases, the byproducts of these successes are remaining embryos, preserved in a state of suspended animation, frozen in liquid nitrogen. The current estimate is that there are more than 600,000 of these “snow babies” in the United States.

Attempts at the first non-human embryo transfer date back to the 1890s. Improvements and discoveries over the following decades lead to the first successful IVF births in 1959 in rabbits by a Chinese scientist. In 1944, the first meeting of the American Society for the Study of Human Sterility was held. This organization would later become the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The first human IVF pregnancy was achieved in Australia in 1973, but, unfortunately, it resulted in an early miscarriage.

RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association, was established in 1974 to promote reproductive health and improve the lives of men and women living with infertility. RESOLVE founded National Infertility Awareness Week in 1989.

On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first IVF baby was born in Oldham, England. Her birth was the result of the collaborative work of Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards. Australia celebrated the birth of its first IVF baby in 1980. Elizabeth Carr, the first IVF baby inthe United States, was born in 1981 at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Her birth was achieved with the use of human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG).

The year 1981 marked the Introduction of Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid) and hMG in the IVF treatment protocol to induce the development of multiple eggs.

France, Sweden and Austria had their first IVF births in 1982. Also, a new method of collecting oocytes for IVF — trans abdominal transvesical oocyte aspiration of human follicles using an ultrasound-guided needle — was demonstrated; however, egg retrievals were still largely performed via laparoscopy until about 1990. At that time, transvaginal egg retrieval became feasible and popular, and all other methods are now obsolete.

The first pregnancy as a result of using a donor egg was in 1983. That same year saw the birth of a baby using a thawed, eight-cell frozen embryo. Canada had its first IVF baby, and the first triplets were born as a result of IVF. The first case of documented donated embryo transfer was reported in 1983 by an Australian group, and involved the transfer of a fresh embryo — a very unusual situation which is rarely performed.

By the mid-1980s the “firsts” continued at an almost exponential rate. These are just a few highlights:

  • First legislation to regulate IVF and its associated human research - The Government of Victoria, 1984
  • First surrogacy embryo transfer baby born in California —1984
  • The first reported birth after replacement of a hatching blastocyst cryopreserved at expanded blastocyst stage – 1985
  • First pregnancy, following IVF donated oocytes, in a non-ovarian failure patient — 1986
  • First mention of the term “embryo adoption” — in the legal literature —1986
  • Between 1986 and 1989, the first three case reports of births from donated frozen embryos occurred in the United States and Belgium, but details were poorly documented
  • The first successful human cleavage-stage embryo vitrification followed by a successful delivery — 1990
  • First report of assisted hatching in human embryos — 1990
  • First pregnancy after intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) — 1992
  • Baby Hannah was the first baby born via donated embryos through the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program — 1998
  • First birth using cryopreserved oocytes and frozen sperm — 2000
  • First grants issued through the Department of Health and Human Services to increase awareness of remaining frozen embryos and embryo donation — 2002
  • First report on oocyte cryopreservation to save fertility in cancer patients — 2004
  • President Bush welcomes 21 families of adopted embryo children to the White House to highlight the existence and viability of frozen embryos that remain after IVF – 2005
  • Several agencies and numerous fertility clinics nationwide handle both embryo donation and adoption — 2012
  • The newly established Embryo Donation Services Center (EDSC) provides consultation services at no charge to embryo donors and adopters who might have medical, legal, ethical or emotional questions and/or concerns regarding the process — 2012
  • A new national Embryo Registry database will be online by late spring 2012

Research continues to unlock the secrets of infertility, to work to reduce the number of multiple births, and to improve the procedure for freezing oocytes and embryos. Approximately seven embryo donation organizations that serve clients/patients nationally, lead the way to increase awareness of and action on behalf of the over 600,000 cryopreserved embryos.


Comments (1)

Good to read all the facts & figures about IVF,ICSI,Surrogacy,embryo donation.........!
Ravi Sharma.

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