The History of IVF

Many couples are surprised to learn that the birth of in vitro fertilization (IVF) was not in this century. IVF was actually conceptualized in the 1800s. In a relatively short span of time, IVF has evolved more than most fields of medicine. The science of IVF shows us that anything is possible.


In the mid-1800s, scientists found that pregnancy was the result of combining sperm with an egg. Before this time, researchers do not fully understand how semen caused conception, and how a woman became pregnant. After this breakthrough discovery, Dr. Sims of the New York Women’s Hospital performed the first intrauterine insemination on a woman using her husband’s sperm. Then, in 1884, Dr. Pancoast of Philadelphia performed the first sperm donor insemination. A medical student (voted best looking by his class) provided the semen specimen, but the couple were not informed until years later. This is not acceptable today because of the lack of informed consent.


Early 1900s

During the early 1900s, researchers were evaluating hormones and how they were related to fertility. In 1926, the first infertility clinic opened in Massachusetts. Later, in 1934, Gregory Pincus performed the first IVF research on rabbits, but was fired from Harvard because of this controversial research. Sometime thereafter, Dr. Rock and Dr. Menkin began human IVF research.


Late 1900s

In 1951, the Rock-Menkin protocols were used by Dr. Shettles of the Columbia Hospital in New York, who duplicated the experiments. The first human egg was fertilized in vitro in 1965 by Dr. Jones and Dr. Edwards in Baltimore. The research led to Dr. Edwards teaming with Dr. Steptoe to use a laparoscopy procedure to retrieve an egg, which was fertilized in the lab. These results were published in 1969 in Nature, a scientific journal. While many Americans were accepting of IVF, the Pope was opposed to it.


The 1970s

In 1972, Dr. Sweeney in Brooklyn retrieved five eggs from a consenting woman in a hospital setting. The Woman’s husband transported the eggs five miles across town to Shettles, at the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. When the husband gave a semen specimen via masturbation, it was used to fertilize the eggs. By 2 p.m., the hospital chairman discovered the experiment and did not allow the transfer of the embryos into the mother. This would have been the first IVF procedure, but it was stopped prematurely. Three years later, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Steptoe did succeed with an IVF pregnancy at their medical facility, but it ended due to an ectopic pregnancy.



In 1978, the first successful live birth from IVF was announced by Dr. Edwards and Dr. Steptoe. This happened when Lesley Brown gave birth to Louise Brown, who was a healthy baby girl. Called “the test tube baby” in the press.


Late 21st Century

After cutting through numerous rolls of red tape, the first IVF clinic opened in Virginia under the Jones doctors. Australia announced the second test tube baby in 1980 followed by the birth of IVF baby Elizabeth Carr of the U.S. in 1981. In the late 21st century, fertility drugs were improved, and instead of using laparoscopic means, IVF egg retrievals were being performed vaginally. In 1991, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) was developed, and embryology labs began culturing five-day embryos safely. To improve pregnancy rates and decrease risks of miscarriage and multiple pregnancies, embryo biopsy techniques became more accurate for prediction of genetic makeup of an embryo.



With current technology emerging from next-generation sequencing (NGS) for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), fertility specialists can detect compound point mutations and small deletions on chromosomes, as well as certain single-gene disorders. IVF is a successful procedure, and many forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART) exist.