Six million and counting, 40 Years of IVF at the London Science Museum

This year marks an incredible milestone for IVF as we celebrate 40 years since the first ‘Test Tube Baby’ Louise Brown was born in 1978

To mark this occasion, the London Science Museum today unveiled a fantastic new exhibition within it’s long standing “Who am I?” experience, entitled IVF: 6 Million Babies Later.

The exhibition explores the remarkable journey IVF has taken since the 1970’s, taking in the successes and failures, the opposition and the overwhelming support for this incredible feat in human biology to the new and exciting methods such as the “shoe box IVF” or SCS Incubator which has been designed to dramatically reduce the cost and improve the accessibility of IVF.

IVF Babble were asked along to the opening day of the exhibition on the 5th July 2018, and I was given the opportunity to go along and check out the new exhibition and attend a talk with Sally Cheshire CBE, Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Here are some of the highlights from the exhibition and I would definitely recommend going along to see if for yourself!

Louise Browns’ “Test Tube”

It may come as a surprise to some, but Louise Brown wasn’t made in a test tube, but in this dessector jar and petri dish. They were used to keep the growing embryos dry and in optimal condition to develop being being put back into the womb. We’ve come a long way from these now, but you have to admit, it’s pretty beautiful right?

SCS incubators

This technology is still relatively new and only in the last few years has it been available in the UK. This method was created to dramatically reduce the cost of IVF to around £1,500, making it a much more affordable option to both the NHS and to private patients who can shell out anything from £5,000 per cycle. The incubators use simple ingredients to simulate the ideal environment for embryos to grow and takes up a lot less space – around the size of a shoebox, hence the name shoebox IVF.

The Three Pioneers of IVF

Of course none of this would be possible were it not for the founders of this incredible procedure, Sir Robert Edwards, Jean Purdy and Patrick Steptoe, who worked tirelessly for over 10 years with many failures before Louise Brown was born. Back then, they were considered to be pushing the boundaries of human science, and it is only right that they are included within this exhibition.

How many needles?!

Yep. That’s how many. This display really showed the stark reality of an IVF cycle. Each box represents a day in a cycle and shows just how may needles, pessaries, blood tests, scans and appointments couples have to go through – many of which will go through this multiple times before they are successful.

The Moment everything changed.

This is the letter that was sent to Lesley Brown confirming she was pregnant. While these days the news is usually broken over the phone after a blood test at the clinic, many couples will do a home pregnancy test to double confirm. This letter was sent to Lesley to confirm that baby was onboard – it particularly made me laugh reading the no skipping, climbing or strenuous activities!

The Future of IVF?

IVF is still a relatively new science that is evolving constantly. With so many advances in human biology, it is estimated that, by year 2100, 400 million or 3% of the human population worldwide will have been born as a result of IVF.

The NHS, which is celebrating 70 years this year has performed one million treatment cycles, resulting in 300,000 babies being born in the UK. Public opinion surrounding IVF is still divided on the ethics of IVF and the manipulation of human development. HFEA’s own Sally Cheshire discussed with us how the work of the HFEA ensures that the ban on sex selection and human cloning stays in place, while mitochondrial donations have allowed us to avoid passing on diseases from parents to babies.

The UK is still very much viewed as the blueprint for IVF technology and the way it is provisioned to patients, so it is imperative that we ensure that the wellbeing and safety of patients is the first priority.

It seems to be that even in 2018, IVF is being seen as more common as we talk about it more, but it is still not commonplace due to the cruel and unfair rationing on IVF services throughout England.

There is so much more to see at the exhibition, but I don’t want to spoil it for you by showing you too much!

There are the breakthrough tools used by Steptoe to perform laparoscopic surgery, the many videos, the stories written by IVF warriors to explain first hand their experience of IVF today, the press coverage from Louise Brown’s birth and so much more.

This amazing exhibition really shines a light on British Science and how far we have come

It also highlights how much we have to do to ensure that the taboo around IVF and infertility is lifted and becomes something that we can all talk about more openly. It will allow future generations to learn more about where babies come from, because they don’t all get delivered by the stork, and will hopefully inspire young and brilliant minds to work in this innovative and constantly evolving area of biology.

The exhibition will be on display at the London Science Museum until November 2018

On the 25th July 2018, the Science Museum will be celebrating Louise Brown’s Birthday at their adults only late nights at the museum.

Free tickets are available now for a unique in-conversation event in the Science Museum IMAX Theatre with Louise Brown and Roger Gosden, a former doctoral student of IVF pioneer Robert Edwards who dedicated his career to researching female infertility.

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