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In vitro fertilisation

the first ‘test-tube baby’ North West,

A cluster of eight cells.
A human embryo produced via IVF. Wellcome Library, London.

In vitro fertilisation, better known by the initials IVF, means ‘fertilisation in a glass’ and is now a standard procedure to assist women with fertility problems by fertilising her eggs in a Petri dish, using the sperm of a partner. 

The pioneers of IVF were surgeon Patrick Steptoe (1913-88), Director of the Centre for Human Reproduction in Oldham, and physiologist Robert Edwards (born 1925). 

Both were interested in human fertility problems before collaborating in 1966: Edwards had fertilised human eggs within the laboratory; Steptoe had obtained human eggs from the ovaries using a laparoscope - a long, thin telescopic instrument. Combining these skills produced mature eggs at the optimum time to improve chances for successful fertilisation and development. 

The first child born through IVF was Louise Brown in 1978. Now thousands of ‘test-tube babies’ are born each year and there are millions of IVF children worldwide. Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine ‘for the development of in vitro fertilization’.

Science Museum

North West
Centre for Human Reproduction, Oldham, Greater Manchester
Key Individuals
Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards,