Today we celebrate a special birthday – Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first ‘test tube’ baby, was born on this day back in 1978 in Oldham, England.
Louise was conceived in a petri dish (so technically she was a ‘petri dish baby’ rather than a ‘test tube baby’), via the process of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Her parents, Lesley and John Brown, had been trying to conceive for nine years, but faced complications of blocked fallopian tubes.
The process was a great success, and amazingly, by the time Louise turned 21 in 1999, more than 300 000 babies had been born using similar IVF techniques.
Louise’s IVF was performed by Dr Robert Edwards of Cambridge, who had previously successfully performed similar procedures with animals. He was assisted by gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, who was already the Browns’ doctor. Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contributions in the field of reproductive medicine.
In vitro fertilisation is a procedure where an egg cell gets fertilised by sperm outside the body. After successful fertilisation, the fertilised egg (zygote) gets transferred to the patient’s uterus in order to continue developing like a normal pregnancy.
The term in vitro (Latin: ‘in glass’) came about to describe a procedure that specifically occurred in a glass container (such as a test tube or petri dish), but its use has been extended to refer to any biological procedure that occurs outside the organism it would normally be occurring in.
Louise Brown got married in 2004, and her own son, conceived naturally, was born in late 2006. Happy 34th birthday, Louise!