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From 6 million test tube babies to 400 million by 2100

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By the end of this century, 400 million babies, which is a 3% of the global population, could be born as a result of in vitro fertilisation, according to Sally Cheshire, CBE, Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

The speech was given at the exhibition ‘IVF: 6 million babies later’ that celebrated the landmark in reproductive technology which was the birth of the very first, Louise Brown, on 25 July 1978.

More than 2 million IVF children have been born to date, and it is likely that continued enhancements will widen its appeal and applicability.


The birth of Louise Brown in 1978 was the highlight of decades of scientific research in reproductive technology. Since then, the numbers of infertile couples that have been given the chance to have a baby have grown. To date, more than 2 million babies have been born worldwide through assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

The exhibition explores the decade of experimentation, hundreds of failed attempts and many setbacks in the quest to treat infertility.

‘IVF is just one example of the huge potential the UK has for scientific and clinical innovation, respected the world over and celebrated in the Science Museum’s wonderful exhibitions – today, of course, focused on IVF,’ said Cheshire, who has personal experience of IVF.

‘But it is to Professor Sir Robert Edwards, Dr Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy that we owe the most, for developing IVF, persisting until it succeeded and allowing millions of patients after Lesley and John Brown, Louise’s parents, to create their much longed-for families,’ she noted.

Sally Chesire also added that a recent article in Reproductive BioMedicine Online estimated that by 2100, 400 million babies or else 3% of the global population could exist by virtue of IVF.

The figure, which would account for three percent of the world’s projected population, includes not only those conceived using ART, but also their descendants.

Even if there is no further development in fertility services, nearly 170 million people (1.4 percent of the world’s population) alive in 2100 will owe their existence to ART.

IVF was so controversial during the 10-year period in which it was developed by Edwards, Steptoe and Purdy that the Medical Research Council refused to fund it. Much of that money came from an American millionairess, Lillian Lincoln Howell, who suffered from fertility problems and remained an anonymous benefactor until her death in 2014.

The Warnock report, published in 1984, identified the need for principles and limits to govern fertility treatment and embryo research, and ultimately paved the way for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 and shortly after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (or HFEA for short) in 1991.

Since then, ‘we have seen embryo testing developed to allow people to avoid passing on serious inherited diseases to any children they might have.

‘The 40th anniversary of IVF is a milestone but it feels like we are only in the early days of an exciting and challenging time ahead as medicine and science move on,’ said Cheshire.

Roger Highfield, the Science Museum’s Director of External Affairs, said the exhibition ‘shows how the birth of Louise fuelled the rapid acceptance of a fringe technology that went on to have a huge impact on society, paving the way for embryology, stem cell science and more.’

The 40th birthday of IVF and Louise Mullinder (nee Brown) will be celebrated at a special Science Museum Lates on Wednesday 25 July 2018 at 7pm, which also celebrates the 70th birthday of the NHS.


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