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Five Million Babies and Counting: An IVF Milestone

Earlier this month fertility experts announced an important milestone for assisted reproductive technologies (ART).  Since the birth of Louise Brown in England 34 years, the first “test tube baby”, an estimated 5 million babies have been born as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and similar technologies.

The International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART) presented their data in Istanbul, Turkey at the 28th meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology based on values of IVF treatment cycles administered worldwide in 2008 and added probable numbers for the last three years.

IVF and similar treatments, such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), are the major forms of infertility treatment utilized when other methods have failed.   IVF and ICSI are procedures done in a laboratory setting.  During IVF, sperm is placed in a special petri dish with unfertilized eggs.  The sperm and eggs may belong to the male or female wishing to conceive or from a donor.  During ICSI, a form of IVF, sperm is directly injected into the egg.   After fertilization, the resulting embryos are transferred into the uterus of a woman or cryopreserved (frozen) for future use.

Success rates for IVF and ICSI have stabilized since 2008 at around a 32% pregnancy and live birth rate for each embryo that is transferred.

According to ICMART experts, approximately 1.5 million IVF and ICSI treatments are administered every year throughout the world.  The majority of treatments, one-third, are administered in Europe.  However, the US and Japan are the most active countries per capita.

Despite the overall success of IVF, the effectiveness of fertility treatments declines in women over the age of 32.  According to the Society for Assisted Technology (SART), a woman in her early 40s only has a 4% chance of achieving a healthy pregnancy using her own eggs for IVF.

Because of the poor success rates of IVF in women as they age, fertility experts warn against couples waiting to have children who may have a false sense of confidence for what ART can offer.

It is important to consider the IVF milestone in context.  It is currently estimated that 10% of the global population, within reproductive age, is infertile.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infertility affects both men and women.  In the United States alone, approximately 7.3 million women of childbearing age (15 to age 44) have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant.   In the most recent CDC report, approximately 4.7 million sexually experienced men have sought fertility help in their lifetimes. Of these, 18.1% were diagnosed with male-related infertility problems.

The use of ART has doubled over the past decade in the US according to the CDC.   The current trend toward postponing the age of first pregnancy has brought attention to the natural limits of fertility.  However, there are numerous other known causes of infertility that affect both men and women including genetic abnormalities, certain diseases, such as cancers and their medical treatments, behavioral risk factors, as well as exposure to harmful environmental and occupational factors.   Although women’s infertility is given greater consideration, infertility is not solely a women’s health issue, rather a growing public health concern.

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