In 1984, human genetics and reproduction researcher and physician Joseph D. Schulman founded the Genetics and IVF Institute, an international organization that provides infertility treatment and genetic services to patients. IVF stands for in vitro fertilization, an infertility treatment in which a female egg is fertilized by male sperm outside of the female body. GIVF is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, in association with Inova Health System, formerly called the Fairfax Hospital Association, one of the largest regional hospital systems in the United States. GIVF offers multiple infertility and genetic services including IVF, donor egg and donor sperm programs, prenatal genetic diagnostic testing, and sex selection technology. GIVF was one of the first medical facilities in the United States to offer IVF and has innovated other infertility treatments and genetic services.
Researchers Geoffrey Sher and Jeffrey Fisch gave Viagra, also known as sildenafil, to women undergoing fertility treatment to test whether the medication could improve fertility and pregnancy rates. The researchers proposed that Viagra, typically indicated to treat erectile dysfunction in men, would help women with a history of failed past fertility treatments by thickening their endometrial lining, which is the layer of tissue in the uterus where an embryo implants during pregnancy. Sher and Fisch gave the women Viagra during in vitro fertilization, or IVF, an assisted reproductive technology. They summarized their findings in the article “Effect of Vaginal Sildenafil on the Outcome of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) After Multiple IVF Failures Attributed to Poor Endometrial Development,” published in Fertility and Sterility in 2002. Although they noted additional research was needed, Sher and Fisch concluded that the prescribed combination treatment of Viagra and IVF resulted in an increased thickening of the endometrium lining which enabled the embryo to implant and result in a pregnancy.
In 1983, researchers Alan Trounson, John Leeton, Carl Wood, Mandy Besanko, and Angelo Conti published the article “Pregnancy Established in an Infertile Patient After Transfer of a Donated Embryo Fertilized In Vitro” in The British Medical Journal. In the article, the authors discuss one of the first successful experiments using in vitro fertilization, or IVF, with the use of a human donor embryo at the Monash University and Queen Victoria Medical Center in Melbourne, Australia. Prior to the article’s publication, it was uncertain whether scientists could successfully use human donor embryos in IVF techniques. Although the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage ten weeks later, it showed that IVF was possible for those who needed to use someone else’s donated egg cells. Trounson and his colleagues’ paper provided a basis for future IVF pregnancies using donated embryos and helped develop a treatment option for men and women who could not conceive through sexual intercourse alone.
Edwin Carlyle Wood, also known as Carl Wood, was a physician who helped develop in vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatments. From 1964 to 1992, Wood worked as a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where he was one of the first in the world to lead a team of physicians to establish IVF as a proven treatment for infertility. IVF refers to a medical procedure in which scientists inseminate an egg cell with a sperm cell outside of the body, such as in a glass dish in a clinical setting. Wood helped establish some of the first successful IVF pregnancies and births, and his findings throughout his years of practice helped to standardize the procedure. Wood also advocated for the right for women to have an abortion, and co-founded the Family Planning Association of Victoria in Australia at a time when there were not many abortion clinics in operation. Through his early contributions to IVF, Wood provided new options for people to have offspring, which as of 2021, has up to a 21.3 percent chance of producing a live birth.
On 29 September 1973, researchers David De Kretzer, Peter Dennis, Bryan Hudson, John Leeton, Alexander Lopata, Ken Outch, James Talbot, and Carl Wood published “Transfer of a Human Zygote,” in The Lancet. In the article, the authors describe an experiment that resulted in one of the first pregnancies established via in vitro fertilization, or IVF. Prior to the article’s publication in 1973, there was no published evidence demonstrating whether IVF treatment would work in humans, although evidence existed showing that IVF worked in other mammals for breeding purposes. At the end of the article, the authors state that the embryo failed to implant into the wall of the patient’s uterus, leading to a miscarriage less than a week after the authors found evidence of pregnancy in the patient. The authors of “Transfer of a Human Zygote” were some of the first researchers to perform IVF, although unsuccessfully, which contributed to the overall understanding of IVF as an emerging technology.
This thesis shows us the history of how some of the first attempts at IVF in humans using various options such as donated egg cells and cryopreserved embryos, often ended in early miscarriages. At that time, most members of the scientific community and general public responded to those trials by regarding them as insignificant. In 1998, the success rate of women under the age of 38 having children with the use of IVF was 22.1%. Over time, scientists began to acknowledge those published findings that detailed various “failed” human IVF experiments. Scientists learned to use them as a guide for what to do differently in future IVF experiments. Because of that, scientists have since developed more effective IVF methods which have ultimately improved the procedure’s success rate.
In June 2015, the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, or ASRM, published “Use of reproductive technology for sex selection for nonmedical reasons” in Fertility and Sterility. In the report, the Committee presents arguments for and against the use of reproductive technology for sex selection for any reason besides avoiding sex-linked disorders, or genetic disorders that only affect a particular sex. When couples have no family history of a sex-linked disease, the use of reproductive technology for sex selection raises ethical questions about the application of sex selection technology to fulfill parental desires. “Use of reproductive technology for sex selection for nonmedical purposes” examines the ethical debate surrounding sex selection for nonmedical purposes and is an educational and ethical reference for physicians who are considering offering those services in their practices.
In 2016, Runaway Films released the documentary Vegas Baby. The film, directed by Amanda Micheli, follows three women who struggle with infertility problems as they undergo in vitro fertilization, or IVF treatment, to become pregnant. In IVF treatment, a woman’s egg is fertilized by a sperm outside of the woman’s body. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg, a fertility doctor places the fertilized egg back into the woman’s uterus. The three women in the film enter the I Believe contest hosted by the Sher Institute of Reproductive Medicine in Las Vegas, Nevada. A panel of judges chooses the winner, who is awarded a free single cycle of IVF treatment. Although only one of the women presented in the documentary wins the contest, the other two women still undergo IVF treatment. Vegas Baby brought awareness to both the infertility problems experienced by couples and IVF treatment as an alternative method for causing pregnancy.
In the early 2000s, Richard S. Legro, Mark V. Sauer, Gilbert L. Mottla, Kevin S. Richter, William C. Dodson, and Duanping Liao studied the relationship between air pollution and reproductive complications. In the United States, Legro’s team tracked thousands of women undergoing in vitro fertilization, or IVF, along with the air quality of both the IVF clinics and patients’ home locations. IVF is a reproductive technology during which a physician obtains mature eggs from a patient’s ovaries and fertilizes them with sperm in a lab setting outside of the body, after which the physician transfers the fertilized eggs into the patient’s uterus. As stated in Legro’s publication, Legro suspected that poor air quality would adversely affect live birth rates during IVF, so he compiled and analyzed the various types of pollutants that IVF patients were naturally exposed to in their homes and clinics. Legro’s experiment led to an increased awareness among patients about the dangers of conceiving via IVF in highly polluted areas.
In 2012, the production company Waddell Media Production released the documentary The Baby Makers. The four-part series, directed and produced by Edel O’Mahony, follows multiple couples in Northern Ireland struggling with infertility problems as they utilize different treatments such as in vitro fertilization, or IVF, egg donation, and egg freezing. IVF is a procedure in which a woman’s egg is fertilized by a sperm outside of her body. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg, a fertility doctor places the fertilized egg back into the woman’s uterus. A narrator narrates the film, which features interviews with gynecologists and clinical embryologists. The Baby Makers brought awareness to infertility problems that couples in Northern Ireland experienced and IVF treatment, egg donation, and egg freezing as alternative methods for getting pregnant.