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Simply Fertility’s Embryologist and Laboratory Director Andy Glew looks back at four decades of fertility treatment

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.

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Lorraine Smullen talks about 40 years of IVF

The Times of an Embryologist

Lorraine Smullen, expert in Embryology at The Hewitt Fertility Centre, who has been involved in the treatment of patients born in the 1950’s right through to the 1990’s, tells us about the changes she has seen in Embryology over the years.

When did your Embryology career begin?

In 1989, at the Royal Liverpool Hospital ACU, where the workforce was just 5, a much smaller team than the 130 we have today. I moved with the team from the ACU across to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital when the centre became the RMU in 1995, later to be renamed The Hewitt Fertility Centre. ‘Embryologist’ wasn’t a job title back then so we took on university posts initially.

What are the biggest differences you have seen in the lab?

The most significant change that has occurred in embryology was the introduction of double witnessing, in the beginning you were your only witness, whereas now every stage is verified by either a second embryologist or a radio frequency identity tag.

Media was made by us in the lab, we purified our own water and used plasma from each female patient’s blood collected two days prior to her egg collection, worlds away from now ordering in CE marked media from manufacturers. We also pulled our own pipettes over bunsen burners and used our mouths to pipette before tools called Bibijets were introduced.

We were limited to culturing embryos to day 2, and on this day we would ordinarily transfer 4 embryos. Multiple pregnancy rates were high at this time so we reduced this to 3 embryos, then to 2 when culture media was developed to culture embryos to day 3. Now culture media has allowed for culture to day 6 and following the HFEA ‘One at a time’ initiative to reduce multiple pregnancy rates, single embryo transfer is the most common practice.

What could you not be without now in the modern day lab?

ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection). Before this was introduced, IVF was the only option for all patients, all sperm samples were prepared by layering the sample underneath media, allowing the good sperm to swim up, we would then take the ‘hazy layer’ from the tube and mix this directly with the eggs. This was extremely frustrating when sperm quality was poor and therefore fertilisation rates were low.

Our lead consultant returned from an overseas conference telling us about an exciting new technique he had learned of, we jumped on board and ordered in an ICSI rig. Although again, we had to make our own needles for this in the beginning, I specifically remember one occasion spending so much time and care making a perfect holding pipette, then just as I had my eureka moment, I dropped it on the floor! Once manufactured pipettes were introduced we began to see fertilisation from ICSI and now this is routinely used for patients with poorer sperm samples.

What other revolutionary changes you have seen?

When freezing and thawing came in, this meant we could store surplus embryos of good quality and offer patients the option of frozen cycles. Most recently timelapse has been introduced where we can monitor embryo development via cameras within the incubators, not only meaning that the embryos are undisturbed until they are removed from the incubator for transfer or freezing, but also we have a wealth of information on each embryo and can use this as a selection tool for which embryo is best.

Finally, could you tell us one thing you miss from the old days?

Due to small patient numbers we would know every patient by name and enjoyed afternoon tea with them on the day’s in-between their appointments!

Many thanks to Lorraine for sharing her IVF memories with us for National Fertility Awareness Week 2017.

21 km walk along the Cotswold Way

On Saturday 11 November Antonia Rodriguez, Rachel Watson, Johanne Young & Kath Lambert set out to walk a section of the Cotswold Way. Despite the cold and wet weather they continued on in the mud and rain for over 21kms, rising both funds and awareness for National Fertility Awareness Week.

Released: 12 November 2017

2017: 40th anniversary of IVF success

#IVFis40 #TalkFertility #NFAWUK

Local Antonia Rodriguez and Kath Lambert plus a couple of friends took on the Cotswolds Way on Saturday 11th November to join forces with leading national patient charity Fertility Network UK to raise funds and awareness for the charity which has recently had its National Fertility Awareness Week (30 Oct – 5 Nov 2017) which this year is celebrating 40 years since IVF’s first success and getting people talking about the real facts about fertility.

Antonia and Kath walked a section of the Cotswolds Way starting at Chipping Campden taking on its hilly terrain with thick mist and wet and muddy conditions.

Aileen Feeney, chief executive of Fertility Network UK said: ‘On 10 November 1977, IVF worked: nine months later on 25 July 1978, the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown was born. Since then a quarter of a million UK babies have been born by IVF.  We are encouraging everyone touched by IVF to share their #IVFis40 memories – patients, IVF children and professionals.’

‘At the heart of the week was #TalkFertility – getting people talking about the real facts about fertility. Share our fertility myths and help shatter some common misconceptions about fertility and age, men and whether you can expect to pay for IVF, and download our fertility etiquette guide looking at what to say, what not to say and how best to provide support for loved ones facing fertility issues.’

‘The results of our #FertilityFellas survey will be revealing the truth about men and fertility, our funding campaign #IVFGoldStandard is demanding change to make access to NHS IVF services fair for all, and our fantastic fundraisers are joining the #FertilityCycle 5K challenge.’

‘In the UK, 1 in 6 couples experience the pain of infertility. Even if you don’t have direct experience, you probably know someone who does – a family member, friend or work colleague. We hope people will join us during National Fertility Awareness Week and after raising funds, improving awareness, providing support and changing perceptions about fertility issues.’

National Fertility Awareness Week: providing support, improving awareness, raising funds and changing perceptions




Hewitt Fertility Staff Epic Cycle


To mark the beginning of The Hewitt Fertility centre’s support for National Fertility Awareness Week, a group of staff decided to do something a little special to honour the occasion. Mark Hargreaves, Paul Mallanaphy, Pauline Green and Lee Jones set out from Liverpool Women’s Hospital with the aim of completing a 100 mile round trip to Kershaw’s Clinic in Oldham – the site of the first IVF treatment 40 years ago – and back again.
After 100 miles, three flat tyres and some questionable navigating, the team arrived back at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital after almost 10 hours of cycling.

On the coldest morning of the year so far the team gathered at the hospital at 7:00am and set off soon after. Reaching Kershaw’s clinic in Oldham, the home of the first ever successful IVF treatment, around midday the team took a short break, a couple of quick snaps, a chat with the staff and set back off home again. Racing against the setting sun – the clocks going back a week previous had meant time was of the essence – the team battled the icy cold and a succession of flat tyres before arriving back to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital in time for dinner and a much deserved hot bath.

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Louise’s Story

Louise Plumpton

My name is Louise. I am 35 years old and was born with a condition called Turners Syndrome. This is a Chromosome condition which amongst other things affects the reproductive organs. My husband and I have undergone the necessary test and it has been confirmed that we will be unable to conceive without the help of egg donation.

We started our IVF/egg donation journey 4 years ago at Livetpool Womens hospital and we have been lucky eoungh to gain NHS funding. At our first conultation we were told that to have a better chance of finding a donor we should advertise ourselves as donations of this sort are very sparse. This came as a bit of a shock. After being given one or two ideas we came away feeling a little deflated not really knowing where to start. We started by using an information poster given to us by the hospital conaining a reference number. This was the start of a 3 and 1/2 year advertising journey which we found quite difficult, not only was there a cost implication it was the fact that some places wouldn’t help share the information for us. Finally in July 2016 a donar came forward which started another type of journey which again has had lots of ups and downs. We were lucky enough to recieve 9 eggs 5 of which fertalised. Then the process of treatment and transfers began 1st cycle didn’t work, 2nd cycle worked but unfortunately I had a miscarriage at 7 weeks. After increasing medication and adding in other meds aswell the last three cycles haven’t worked either, the last one being recently. As you can imagine it’s been a tough road which has left myself and husband with lots of questions and things to think about. Fortunately we do have a second round of funding but it’s just the time it takes to find a donor.