Saturday, July 21, 2012

Test Tube Baby

In three days time the world's very first baby conceived via IVF turns 34.

Born on the 25th July 1978, Louise Joy Brown was born at the Oldham General Hospital in the United Kingdom.  Her parents, Lesley and John Brown had been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for nine years, prevented due to the fact that Lesley had blocked fallopian tubes.

Louise Brown, moments after birth. 

As early as the 1930s the possibility had been raised by researchers that fertilisation of embryos could occur outside the human body (in vitro).  In the late 1940s experiments were being conducted in the US in women where eggs were collected and exposed to sperm.  In 1959 the first mammalian in vitro pregnancys were achieved using rabbits.

However, demand for assisted pregnancy did not really take off until the 1960s.  Falling adoption rates occurred due to better social support for single mothers and safer and wider access to abortion services.  In 1961 ovum were first collected using laproscopic methods.  In 1973 the first pregnancy in occurred, facilitated by the team of Carl Wood and John Leeton in Melbourne Australia.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a miscarriage.  Then in 1976, a team of researchers headed by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards reported on an embryo transfer which resulted in ectopic pregnancy. 

In 1977 Steptoe and Edwards performed another embryo transfer, this time on Lesley Brown.  Unlike previously, they transferred the embryo after two and a half days.  This time the pregnancy took.  Lesley Brown was monitored very closely throughout, with regular ultrasounds and amniocentesis.  About a week prior to her due date, Mrs. Brown developed preeclampsia and the decison was made to deliver her baby early.  Louise Joy was born on the 25th July 1978 at 1147pm weighing 2.3 kilograms via emergency caeserean section.  Although referred to by the UK media as a "test tube baby" she was actually conceived in a petri dish.

Her sister, Natalie, was born four years later and became the world's fortieth IVF baby.

Since then the technology of IVF has improved in leaps and bounds.  The discovery of how to control cycles and stimulate ovulation allowed IVF to become widely useful in a clinical setting.  Other techniques such as intra-cytoplasic sperm injection (ICSI) means that IVF is now applicable to male infertility as well. For their work, Prof Edwards won the Nobel Prize in biology in 2010.  (Dr. Steptoe passed away in 1988 and would have shared the award, unfortunately the Nobel is not awarded post humously). 

There are now well over five million children world wide that owe their existence to IVF and related technologies.  All due to the bravery of Lesley and John Brown.

Louise Brown, delightfully, is now the mother of a son, Cameron, conceived naturally and born in 2006.  Her father John passed away in 2006.  Lesley Brown, unfortunately, passed away just a month ago from complications of a gallbladder infection.

Speaking on behalf of Prof Edwards a spokesperson said it best:

"Lesley was a devoted mum and grandmother and through her bravery and determination many millions of women have been given the chance to become mothers.  She was a lovely, gentle lady and we will all remember her with deep affection."

Prof Edwards, Lesley Brown, Louise Brown and her son Cameron. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wascally Wabbits

In September 1726 a young woman named Mary Toft, about 25 at the time, went into labour with her third child.  The pregnancy had been complicated.  Forced to undertake heavy work in the fields throughout she stated that she had suffered a great deal of pain and a month prior had passed several pieces of flesh and clots.

On the night Mary laboured in September her neigbour watched incredulously as Mary produced several pieces of animal flesh.  The neighbour showed these to Mary's mother in law, a midwife, who contacted John Howard a local surgeon and "man-midwife".

Sceptical, Howard attended Mary the following day.  Initially he found nothing. However Mary once again went into labour a few days later.  Howard returned and subsequently delivered three legs of a tabby cat, a rabbit leg and the intestines of a cat. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The D-Downfall of Anne Boelyn

Anne Boelyn.

Love her or hate her, it's hard to decide.

Henry the Eighth couldn't really figure it out either.

Anne Boelyn was born somewhere between 1501 and 1507 at Hever Castle in Kent.  She was sent to France to wait apon Queen Claude of France and complete her studies, returning to England when she was about twenty.  This education in France proved pivotal and may have shaped some of Anne's more reformative beliefs in her later life.

Anne's family, and in particular her Uncle, Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, were ambitious for position at court.  They must have been delighted when Anne quickly caught the eye of King Henry VIII in 1526 and that within a year he had proposed marriaged to her.

The slight problem being, of course, that he was already married to Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, had birthed six children.  A stillborn son, a stillborn daughter, two sons who lived less than a month, both named Henry, Duke of Cornwell, an unnamed daughter who lived less than a week, and Mary, who would go on to become Queen of England.

She had not borne a living son, and Henry was determined to set her aside. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Observations in Midwifery

A truly unique tome is currently up for auction in the United Kingdom. 

Observations in Midwifery, by Percival Willughby is a record of 150 case histories attended by Willughby over his years of practice.  Written in about 1670 it was not published until many years after his death in 1863.  Only 100 copies were produced, 17 sold, and only 2 remain in existance today.