Number of IVF babies passes 5m worldwide with demand for techniques still rising
00:51 GMT, 2 July 2012
Five million babies have been born using IVF since the world’s first in 1978, according to estimates.
The global milestone includes more than 200,000 born in the UK.
Demand is still rising for techniques invented by British doctors.
In the UK, records show almost 177,000 IVF babies had been born by June 2010
When the first ‘test tube baby’, Louise Brown, was born at Oldham General Hospital on July 25, 1978, it caused a sensation. An ethical storm erupted, but the techniques are now mainstream medicine.
The worldwide estimate of births is based on figures for in-vitro fertilisation treatment cycles up to 2008.
An international committee, which estimated how many more treatments have taken place since, believes that the total number of IVF births has reached five million.
In the UK, records show almost 177,000 IVF babies had been born by June 2010, with an estimated 26,000 born since.
The figures will be presented this week at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Istanbul.
The number of babies born to IVF has now passed 5m worldwide
Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said: ‘Everyone expected the proportion of IVF treatment cycles to plateau, but it hasn’t.’
Dr Simon Fishel, a member of the Cambridge team responsible for Louise’s birth, said the five million milestone was a ‘moment of pride’ for fertility scientists.
But Stuart Lavery, director of IVF at Hammersmith Hospital in West London, warned career women not to rely on IVF as an ‘insurance policy’ for starting a family because of poorer success rates among those in their late 30s and 40s.
‘We need to get the message across that people cannot necessarily rely on it later in life’ said Mr Lavery.
‘Although there are things we can do to greatly improve success rates, the increments are small.’
Experts are concerned by the rising popularity of Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which involves injecting a sperm directly into an egg and is thought to boost success rates.
It accounts for 52 per cent of new treatment cycles in the UK but draft guidance being prepared for the NHS warns it should only be used to treat sperm problems or after failed IVF attempts.
It says there is no evidence it works better than IVF and carries a small increased risk of birth defects.
A study last month suggested it doubled the risk, with one in 10 babies born through ICSI suffering some form of abnormality. This compares with one in 20 of those conceived naturally.
Demand for IVF, a technique invented by British doctors, continues to rise in the UK
Dr Pacey said ‘I really worry about the inappropriate use of ICSI, given what we know about the risks. Personally, I think it’s a worry that ICSI has overtaken IVF. We should try and pull back.
‘We need to send a strong message that we should not be pushing it and using it as a primary treatment when it’s not needed.’
Using ICSI also adds 1,000 to the average bill for fertility treatment on top of the typical 2,500 fee for IVF, with many couples still unable to get NHS treatment in some areas.
Dr Simon Fishel, managing director of clinic chain CARE Fertility UK and a member of the Cambridge team responsible for the birth of Louise Brown, said the five million milestone was a testament to the ‘great scientists and doctors who have worked so hard to improve the treatment of patients’.
But, he added, ‘It is a moment of pride for our unique branch of medical science, and a point to reflect on how we must continue to fight for our patients where there still remain barriers to treatment.’
Professor Sir Robert Winston of Imperial College London, said childless couples continue to be disadvantaged despite the advances in fertility treatment.
He said ‘The big problems are exorbitant charging for IVF, patients paying for experimental treatments of dubious value and the failure of proper provision within the NHS.’