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Louise Joy Brown : World's first Test-Tube Baby

Louise Joy Brown : World's first Test-Tube Baby

From the very early dawn of human civilization, we are trying to understand the nature and to control her. It's a great mystery of human psychology that it never wants to get defeated. And this is the secret source of all the great success in the history of human beings. Only because of this ambition we are now-a-days on the peak of science & technology.

One of the greatest success of the last century was the birth of first Test-Tube Baby. No doubt it was a triumph of Science over nature. This technology was able to bring smile to billions of faces, the happiness of having a child !!!

The man behind this first successful Test-Tube baby was Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards, a British physiologist. He realized "The most important thing in life is having a child". That was the spirit behind his research on the processes of fertilization - that critical moment when a man's sperm and a woman's egg join to create new life.


Edwards began work on fertilization in 1955, and began his partnership with Dr Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecologist surgeon, in 1968. Although the first successful human test-tube fertilization took place by 1970, research did not result in a successful pregnancy for ten years. By the late 1970s, funding for Steptoe and Edwards' project was running out, and their work met with scepticism, resistance and set-back and they had to rely largely on private donations to continue their work.

After 10 years of struggle, Edwards and Steptoe got success. On July 25, 1978, Louise Joy Brown, the world's first successful "test-tube" baby was born in Great Britain. We now know this technique as in vitro fertilization (IVF).


Every year, millions of couples try to conceive a child; unfortunately, many find that they cannot. The process to find out how and why they have infertility issues can be long and arduous. Before the birth of Louise Brown, those women who were found to have Fallopian tube blockages (approximately twenty percent of infertile women) had no hope of becoming pregnant.

Usually, conception occurs when an egg cell (ovum) in a woman is released from an ovary, travels through a Fallopian tube, and is fertilized by the man's sperm. The fertilized egg continues to travel while it undergoes numerous cell divisions. It then rests in the uterus to grow. Women with Fallopian tube blockages cannot conceive because their eggs cannot travel through their Fallopian tubes to get fertilized.

Animal studies had shown that it was possible to fertilise an egg in a laboratory instead of inside the body.The team of Dr Steptoe and Prof Edwards were trying to achieve the same results in people. It took until 1968 for the first glimmers of success. They fertilised an egg, which then began to develop and reached the blastocyst stage after five to six days. Prof Edwards said: "I'll never forget the day I looked down the microscope and saw something funny in the cultures."

"I looked down the microscope and what I saw was a human blastocyst gazing up at me. I thought, 'We've done it'".

Though Drs. Steptoe and Edwards had successfully found a way to fertilize an egg outside a woman's body, they were still troubled by problems after replacing the fertilized egg back into the woman's uterus. By 1977, all of the pregnancies resulting from their procedure (about 80) had lasted only a few, short weeks.

Lesley and John Brown were a young couple from Bristol who had been unable to conceive for nine years. Lesley Brown had blocked Fallopian tubes. Having gone from doctor to doctor for help to no avail, she was referred to Dr. Patrick Steptoe in 1976. On November 10, 1977, Lesley Brown underwent the very experimental in vitro  fertilization procedure.

Using a long, slender, self-lit probe called a "laparoscope," Dr. Steptoe took an egg from one of Lesley Brown's ovaries and handed it to Dr. Edwards. Dr. Edwards then mixed Lesley's egg with John's sperm. After the egg was fertilized, Dr. Edwards placed it into a special solution that had been created to nurture the egg as it began to divide.

Previously, Drs. Steptoe and Edwards had waited until the fertilized egg had divided into 64 cells (about four or five days later). This time, however, they decided to place the fertilized egg back into Lesley's uterus after just two and a half days.


Image: Robert Edwards, Jean Purdy with Louise Brown and Patrick Steptoe

Close monitoring of Lesley showed that the fertilized egg had successfully embedded into her uterus wall. Then, unlike all the other experimental in vitro fertilization pregnancies, Lesley passed week after week and then month after month with no apparent problems. The world began to talk about this amazing procedure.

"We were concerned that she would lose the baby, the foetus, because the press were chasing Mrs Brown all over Bristol where she lived," said Prof Edwards in 2008.

"So, secretly Patrick Steptoe hid the mother in his car and drove her to his mother's house in Lincoln - the press didn't know where she was."

Throughout Lesley's pregnancy, she was closely monitored, including the use of ultrasounds and amniocentesis. Nine days before her due date, Lesley developed toxemia (high blood pressure). Dr. Steptoe decided to deliver the baby early via Cesarean section.

At 11:47 p.m. on July 25, 1978, a 5 pound 12-ounce (2.608 kg) baby girl was born. The baby girl, named Louise Joy Brown, had blue eyes and blond hair and seemed healthy. Still, the medical community and the world were preparing to watch Louise Brown to see if there were any abnormalities that couldn't be seen at birth.

The process had been a success! Though some wondered if the success had been more luck than science, continued success with the process proved that Dr. Steptoe and Dr. Edwards had accomplished the first of many "test-tube" babies.

Although the media referred to Brown as a "test tube baby", her conception actually took place in a petri dish. Her younger sister, Natalie Brown, was also conceived through IVF four years later, and became the world's fortieth IVF baby.

In 2004, Louise married Wesley Mullinder. Dr. Edwards attended their wedding. Their son Cameron, conceived naturally, was born on 20 December 2006.

Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for the development of in vitro fertilization". The Nobel Committee praised him for advancing treatment of infertility and noted that IVF babies have similar health statuses to ordinary babies. The first child of IVF Louise Brown described the award as "fantastic news".In 2007, he was ranked 26th in The Daily Telegraph's list of 100 greatest living geniuses.

He was one of the giants of science in the 20th Century and pioneered the techniques which have given children to millions of couples. Today, the process of in vitro fertilization is considered commonplace and utilized by infertile couples around the world.


Written by Dhiraj Sarmah.

Cotton College, Guwahati, India.



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