IVF has come a long way since the birth of the first IVF child, British-born Louise Brown, 30 years ago. Nearly 10,000 IVF babies were born in Australia last year from IVF pregnancies and in excess of 80,000 since the birth of Australia's first IVF child, Candice Reed in 1980. It is unlikely that we will see a single breakthrough of IVF's magnitude in reproductive science again in our lifetimes.
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Assisted Reproductive Systems, which includes ovulation induction, IUI and IVF, is in an area of growing demand, as Australians delay starting a family which impacts on fertility. The decision to start a family later in lifetime is more often than not a choice dictated by societal modifications. Many women in their 30s do not have children because they do not have a partner, and a stable relationship and a good income are the most important prerequisites for starting a family, according to a study performed by the Fertility Society of Australia.
So what is involved in IVF? Hundreds of ladies seek fertility treatment in IVF clinics and IVF Centres around Australia every day. There are two types of cycles involved in IVF treatment - known as agonist and antagonist. The difference between the cycles is time - the agonist period is shorter.
Treatment involves consuming hormones to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs. Eggs are collected from the ovaries using ultrasound-guided transvaginal needle aspiration. These eggs are placed in a dish with a large number of sperm permitting fertilisation to occur, and some of these eggs proceed on to form embryos. These embryos cam become transferred back into the uterus using a small plastic tube and some can be frozen and saved for future transfer. The embryo then implants itself in the uterus. Sometimes, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI is used. This is a different, more sophisticated form of IVF where the scientist injects a single sperm into the egg. This technique is an excellent treatment if the sperm is of poor quality.
So what does the future hold for Assisted Reproductive Technologies?
The immediate future will involve refinement of the assisted conception technology to make IVF easier, including advanced techniques to fertilise eggs with one single sperm, developing molecular selection techniques to pick out the best embryos and sperm, for treatment. Study into fertility preservation, such as egg freezing, and ovary and testicular tissue preservation, is ongoing.
Early in the 21st Century we are exploring the use of embryonic stem cells in the hope of enabling human beings to grow whole new organs. Looking additional into the future we can foresee the use of stem cell technology to create artificial gametes (egg and sperm) and help men and women who have no eggs or sperm of their own have their own genetic children.
The possibilities for IVF and assisted conception into the future have yet to find a limit.