Image by Wellcome Library

IVF stands for In Vitro Fertilisation, a treatment for various forms of infertility. This involves mixing the ova and sperm together outside a woman’s body, and then implanting the fertilised eggs into the woman’s womb.  Children born by the technique are sometimes called test-tube babies, but the mixing is actually usually done in a Petri dish.

A woman will have to have extensive hormone treatments before having IVF. These stimulate her ovaries so that lots of follicles develop to produce eggs, all at once. These eggs are collected using an ultrasound-guided needle, which enters the ovaries through the vaginal wall. The eggs are then mixed with the sperm and incubated for 18 hours. After a few days usually two of the healthiest looking embryos are implanted into the woman’s womb. The success rate is approximately 28% of women becoming pregnant per cycle of treatment.

Image by Wellcome Library/Alan Handyside

The first successful case of IVF was recorded in 1978. Over the last 30 years the ethical issues surrounding the treatment has sparked many debates and it has featured heavily in the mainstream news. For example, recently Sweden  made the decision to no longer fund IVF treatment with the release of their new savings plan. Patients will still be able to receive IVF privately though this has sparked concerns that only those able to afford it will undergo treatment and fears have arisen over the knock-on effects to the population dynamics.

In the UK, currently the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) (an independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on the promotion of good health), recommend that the NHS pay for up to 3 cycles of IVF for anyone between the ages of 23 and 39 without children. However, there is still a so-called postcode lottery and in most areas couples receive only one round of treatment.

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