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What is In Vitro Fertilization: Why to Select It

By Jaime M. Vasquez, MD
Published in Resolve for the future and beyond, Summer 2012

The history of IVF is relatively short. On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown of Cambridge, England was the first baby born via in vitro fertilization (IVF). The next IVF baby was born later that same year in India. Soon, people started calling these infants "test-tube babies." The first baby born using IVF in the U.S. was born in 1981, and the number has continued to increase each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 60,000 infants were born as a result of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) cycles performed in 2009 -- 99 percent of these with IVF.

IVF is a treatment for infertility in which a woman's eggs (oocytes) are fertilized by sperm in a laboratory dish. One or more of the fertilized eggs (embryos) are then transferred into the woman's uterus, where it is hoped they will implant and produce a pregnancy.

The science of IVF has improved considerably in the more than 25 years since the first “test-tube” baby. Originally indicated for women with tubal factor infertility, IVF has become the treatment of last resort for virtually all causes of infertility when conventional therapy fails or is unlikely to be successful. The most frequent reasons for IVF include:

  • Absent or blocked fallopian tubes
  • Severe male factor infertility (sperm counts or sperm motility is low)
  • Advanced reproductive age, as time to conception is critical and pregnancy rates with other therapies are low
  • All other causes of infertility, after failing treatment with other therapies (e.g., endometriosis, ovulation disorders, unexplained infertility)
  • Ovarian failure, although donor eggs would be required in this case

Success rates with IVF continue to improve as we gain insight into optimal culture conditions for sperm, eggs, and embryos. New procedures such as in vitro egg maturation, preimplantation genetic testing, single embryo transfer, and oocyte (egg) freezing hold the promise of reducing the cost, inconvenience, and risks of IVF.

In vitro fertilization is a highly sophisticated, meticulously timed procedure. Click here for more information on the procedure and what to expect if you select this course of treatment.

Jaime Vasquez, M.D., practices at the Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, The Center for Reproductive Health, Centennial Center in Nashville, TN.  He has published in multiple peer review journals both nationally and internationally and has co-authored multiple textbooks. He has held faculty positions at Vanderbilt, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. Dr. Vasquez earned his medical degree from the Catholic University of Chile.