Experts estimate that around now, approximately 5 million babies have been born as a result of assisted reproduction technologies - namely IVF and ICSF. The first test tube baby was born in July 1978, in England, her name was Louise Brown. These data were presented yesterday at the 28th Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), Istanbul, Turkey.

Experts from ICMART (International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies) worked out the figure of 5 million babies from the number of IVF and ICSI treatment cycles recorded around the world up to 2008 - they then estimate what the additional numbers probably have been since then.

The presenters yesterday said that up to the end of last year, the total number of births was about 4.6 million, and this year the total will be around 5 million.

Dr David Adamson, chairman of ICMART, said:

"It means that this technology has been highly successful in treating infertile patients. Millions of families with children have been created, thereby reducing the burden of infertility.

"The technology has improved greatly over the years to increase pregnancy rates. The babies are as healthy as those from other infertile patients who conceive spontaneously. The technology is available globally in many different cultures. The major barriers to access are economic, and societal in some situations. With these accomplishments as a technology, and with recognition of Professor Robert Edwards as a Nobel Laureate, IVF is firmly established now in the mainstream of medicine."

According to ICMART, approximately 1.5 million ART cycles are carried out annually worldwide, resulting in the birth of about 350,000 babies. Experts say the numbers are progressively increasing. The most active region in the world is Europe, and the two most active countries are Japan and the USA.

ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies) success rates "stabilizing"

Success rates from a single fresh treatment cycle of IVF and ICSI appear to have stabilized at around 32% pregnancy rate for each embryo that is transferred (and 28% per aspiration). This success rate has stabilized since 2008.

The total number of embryos transferred has dropped significantly, Dr. Ferraretti explained. Delivery rates can rise significantly while maintaining a very low multiple rate.

Regarding multiple pregnancies, Dr. Ferraretti said:

"The overall trend in Europe of transferring fewer embryos continues. We found in 2009 that, compared with previous years, fewer three-embryo transfers and more single embryo transfers were performed. As a result of this trend, ART triplets have fallen below 1%, and, for the first time, the twin delivery rate was below 20% (19.6%)."

Dr Anna Veiga, Chairman of ESHRE, and Scientific Director, Dexeus University Institute, Barcelona, Spain, said:

"Five million babies are a clear demonstration that IVF and ICSI are now an essential part of normalised and standardised clinical therapies for the treatment of infertile couples. Many aspects have changed since the early days of IVF, especially the results in terms of babies born, but there is still room for improvement.

Our objective is the birth of single healthy baby and this can be achieved though the optimisation of both clinical and embryological performance."

What are IVF and ICSI?

IVF (in vitro fertilization) - a procedure done in the lab in which male sperm are placed in a special dish with unfertilized eggs - hopefully the sperm enter the eggs and fertilize them. When fertilization occurs, the resulting embryos are transferred into the uterus of a woman or cryopreserved (frozen) for future use.

In vitro is latin for "within the glass". Basically, in vitro means that the biological process is performed outside the body of the organism (in this case a human being). In vivo is the opposite, when the process occurs inside the organism.

IVF is a major form of infertility treatment when other assisted reproductive technologies have failed. The process is as follows:
  • The woman's ovulatory process is monitored
  • An ovum or ova (plural: eggs) is/are removed from the female's ovaries and placed in a fluid medium in the laboratory
  • Male sperm are added to the mix to fertilize the egg(s)
  • The zygote (fertilized egg) is transferred into the women's uterus, the aim being to establish a successful pregnancy and the birth of a baby
IVF was developed by Robert G. Edwards, a physiologist and biologist, and Patrick Christopher Steptoe, an obstetrician and gynecologist - both from England. Edwards received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010. Louise Brown was the first "test tube baby" and was born in 1978 as a result of natural cycle IVF.

ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is a form of IVF that goes one step further. The sperm is injected directly into the egg. The procedure is done under a microscope.

What is the difference between IVF and Test Tube Baby?

A test tube baby is the result of an egg being fertilized outside the woman's uterus. IVF is the process of fertilizing a woman's egg outside her body.

A test tube baby is the result, the outcome.

IVF is the technique, the process.

Written by Christian Nordqvist