40th Anniversary of IVF

in vitro fertilization microscope

I remember hearing about the birth of the first test tube baby in 1978 as if it was a plot of a science fiction in a remote world. As I look back over the last 3 decades, I can’t help but feeling awestruck about how fast things have progressed in the field of Reproductive Medicine.

My earliest memory of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) goes back to my fellowship years in 1994, when we first started the IVF program in Bethesda Maryland for the NIH-Military combined initiative.

I remember Dr. Richard Scott (a founding partner of our sister practice RMANJ) looking through the microscope preparing retrieved eggs in the makeshift IVF chamber that was modified from a portable pediatric isolette for the GIFT procedure. Fellows assisted transvaginal egg retrieval with handheld syringe suction, and were occasionally blamed for “cracked zona”.

Soon after, we built an embryology laboratory with the help of lab scientists and started offering IVF treatment with day 2 embryo transfers. I remember how excited I was when a positive pregnancy result came back occasionally after transferring 3-4 embryos on patients in their 30’s. We truly have come a long way from that time to today where a single embryo transfer has become the norm in most clinical scenarios.

A few of the breakthroughs I have witnessed over the last 3 decades are

  • Introduction of ICSI to IVF in the early 1990’s that revolutionized the treatment of male factor infertility
  • Extended cell culture system that made in vitro survival and maintenance of quality possible for embryo screening and selection.
  • Effective freezing technology that allowed viability and maintenance of reproductive potential of frozen embryos and eggs for a prolonged period of time
  • Embryo biopsy that allowed identifying normal healthy embryos on a molecular level

There are still challenges ahead such as understanding and solving issues with embryo mosaicism, and understanding and defining uterine implantation windows and molecular markers.

It has been a true privilege to witness the amazing advances made over the last 40 years. I can’t even attempt to fathom what ART will be like in the coming decades.

Thomas J. Kim MD, FACOG HCLD (ABB) / MT (AAB), Medical/Laboratory Director

Reproductive Medicine Associates of Southern California - Los Angeles, CA

Reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Southern California (RMASOCAL) in Los Angeles, CA. View more blogs by Dr. Kim.