Reproductive Assistance: In Vitro Fertilization

What Is It?

In 1978, British researchers Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe broke reproductive ground with the birth of the world's first "test-tube baby", little Louise Brown. Now, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is a relatively common procedure used to treat a variety of infertility causes.

Literally translated from Latin as "fertilization in glass", the in-vitro fertilization process uses the tools of the scientist -- petri dish, microscope, sterile environment -- to create life from two human cells, the sperm and oocyte.

While the technology used is incredible, the steps followed are simple:

  • Regulation of female cycle through the use of contraceptives, Lupron, or Synarel (GnRH agonists)
  • Ovulation induction through the use of injectable fertility medications containing Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), such as Gonal-F, Follistim, Pergonal, Repronex, or Metrodin
  • A "backup" semen sample collected from the male to be frozen and stored in the event of problems with collection later in the cycle
  • Close monitoring via ultrasound and bloodwork of the woman's egg production to determine timing of the remaining steps (in addition to protecting against ovarian hyperstimulation, a potentially life-threatening but rare consequence)
  • Administration of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) via injection in preparation for ovulation
  • Egg retrieval via needle aspiration with the assistance of vaginal ultrasound
  • Primary semen sample collection via masturbation on the day of egg retrieval
  • Insemination and fertilization follow as eggs and sperm will be combined in petri dishes
  • Depending on the needs of each patient, some of the following procedures may be used to facilitate fertilization: assisted hatching, ICSI
  • Approximately 72 hours after egg retrieval, transfer of optimally-developed embryos into the uterus via a small tube through the vagina and cervix
  • The woman is asked to refrain from most physical activity for the next 48 hours, and a pregnancy test will be administered approximately two weeks after egg retrieval.