As National Fertility Week gets ready to celebrate 40 years since the birth of the first IVF baby, Simply Fertility’s Embryologist and Laboratory Director Andy Glew looks back at four decades of fertility treatment:
“My career started in 1984 when I was given the opportunity to work in a government funded institute specialising in animal reproduction and genetic research. My position was funded by Professor Iain Craft, a pioneer in IVF treatment, and I soon found myself working in some of the most prestigious private hospitals across London.
“Before too long, I became a member of the senior team managing the world’s largest IVF facility with over 3,000 treatment cycles each year. It’s hard to believe that the live birth rate back then was only 10% at best, even when replacing multiple embryos and eggs. IVF was not regulated and the multiple birth rate was incredibly high.
“In those earlier years, we made our own in-house culture media, moving to single use consumables from the glass petri dishes previously used. We washed and processed all our glassware by hand and our incubators were huge boxes recording a 37˚C temperature, with no reassurance of what was actually happening inside. The Professor would choose the embryos to transfer and the embryologist would assist in passing the catheter with the chosen number of embryos inside.
“Intra cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) had not yet been developed and nor had embryo freezing. In the case of male infertility, the only hope was to use donor sperm. If you had excess embryos, the best option was to have them transferred as there was no way of conserving valuable embryos.
“As my career moved on, I became one of the co-founders of the Association of Clinical Embryologists (ACE), ensuring that embryologists gained the professional status they have today. I hosted the first ever ACE conference with 130 embryologists attending, focusing on embryo cryopreservation.
“I co-founded the Essex Fertility Centre, which later relocated and became the Herts and Essex Fertility Centre. I was one of the first embryologists to embrace the new ICSI treatment in 1992, a procedure that revolutionised IVF. We used high powered microscopy to create our own in house ultra-fine glass injection tools to inject sperm into an egg. This was a very exciting time and the use of donor sperm dropped dramatically.
“I was instrumental in developing Electronic Witnessing systems that are common place in laboratories around the world today, a necessity to ensure we do not see a repeat of the extremely rare but serious incidents that occurred in earlier years. Today, we have complete traceability of every single egg, sperm and embryo, giving reassurance to the embryologist and most importantly to our patients.
“Perhaps one of the most exciting developments I initiated was the introduction of blastocyst culture in 2000. Having returned from an American conference, I realised that there was a lot of confidence in the new era of culture media and growing embryos to day five. I put this in place straight away and many others followed, with significant increases in confidence in our laboratories, quickly it was realised we could be confident of transferring just one embryo to ensure a safe pregnancy outcome. A milestone in IVF, this coincided with the introduction of strict quality control and quality management processes driven by our regulator, the HFEA.
“Today, a successful IVF centre is a million miles away from where we were 40 years ago. Research, product development and regulation have brought about consistently high success rates for those looking to start or extend their family.
“We have seen amazing progress, except for funding. The East of England was the first strategic authority to embrace NICE guidelines offering three cycles of IVF to patients. However, sadly, it is also the first region to withdraw funding throughout the majority of CCG’s. I feel strongly that this does not make economic sense, when IVF has become such a successful treatment.
“I have a passion for embryology and am proud that today we are able to deliver a bespoke approach to fertility treatment, high success rates and first class treatment and care. It is a privilege to help patients throughout their fertility journey and help them to achieve their dream.”