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16 Jan 2019

History of IVF

Vicken Sahakian

Vicken Sahakian


Fertility treatments have made families a reality for couples and individuals struggling with infertility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 231,936 fertility treatment cycles in America in 2015. Of that number, 99 percent of fertility treatments involved in vitro fertilization (IVF). Pacific Fertility Center is proud to have helped so many people in the greater Los Angeles, CA realize their dreams of parenthood.

Even though IVF is extremely popular for fertility treatment, it only became a reality in the middle of the 20th century. We’d like to consider the history and evolution of IVF so you understand how it developed and can appreciate the findings of so many medical researchers in our field.

1920s-1960s: The Foundations for IVF

The entire idea behind IVF took time to develop, with numerous prior discoveries necessary for it to come about. During the 1920s to the 1960s, there were a few innovations and discoveries that helped lay the foundations for IVF:

  • 1923 – Medical researchers identify the female fertility hormone estrogen
  • 1929 – Medical researchers identify the female fertility hormone progesterone
  • 1943 – Hormone supplements are developed for fertility
  • 1960s – Drugs to boost fertility are developed

Thanks to fertility supplements and fertility drugs, doctors were able to boost the chances of pregnancy in patients. These drugs and supplements also gave doctors to control and properly time egg development and ovulation, which are keys to the success of IVF.

1950s: IVF Techniques Tested on Animals

The first attempts to perform IVF involved medical testing on animals. The first successful pregnancy and live birth in these IVF animal tests occurred in 1959. Dr. Min Chueh Chang at the Worcester Foundation was able to deliver baby rabbits through the IVF process. This demonstrated that an embryo that was fertilized in a lab can be successfully transferred to the womb and carried to term.

Early-to-Mid 1970s: Initial Attempts at IVF on Humans

Even though the first IVF procedure on animals was performed in 1959, it would take a while before IVF was viable for humans. Some failed attempts at IVF on people occurred in the early 1970s. In 1973, The Lancet reported about an Australian research team at Monash University. That team was able to achieved the first human IVF pregnancy, but the pregnancy ended after a few days. In 1976, some reports noted an ectopic pregnancy through IVF that was non-viable given the circumstances.

In addition to these unsuccessful attempts at IVF, we should also mention a controversial attempt to perform IVF in 1973. Dr. Landrum Shettles in New York City tried to carry out a secret IVF procedure at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Shettles’ supervisor thwarted the attempted procedure since it was going to be performed without any sort of oversight.

1978: First Human Born Through IVF

It wouldn’t be until 1978 that the first successful IVF pregnancy and live birth occurred. Dr. Patrick Steptoe and Dr. Robert Edwards performed the procedure in England, resulting in the birth of Louise Brown on July 25, 1978. Louise is still alive and well today, and living proof of the innovations made over the course of a few decades.

The 1980s: IVF Becomes Mainstream

Even though doctors proved that IVF could be done safely and successfully, it would take a little time before IVF went mainstream. That is what happened during the 1980s, as more and more people started turning to IVF and other procedures to get pregnant and start families. Improvements in medical equipment and refinements in IVF techniques would occur continually throughout the decade.

Learn More About IVF

For more information about IVF and your many other options for fertility treatment, be sure to contact an experienced fertility specialist. The team at Pacific Fertility Center is here to help. You can reach our Los Angeles office by phone at (310) 586-3455, and our Glendale office at (818) 952-0328.

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