Celebrating IVF and the Embryologists Behind its Success

Since the first “test-tube” baby was born on 25 July 1978, an estimated 6 million babies have been born worldwide thanks to the amazing infertility treatment commonly known as IVF, and the specialist scientists called embryologists who make the incredible success rate of IVF treatment possible.

For this reason, 25 July each year is commemorated as World IVF Day and World Embryologist Day. In this article, we take a closer look at what IVF treatment entails and the role of the embryologists in this process that have allowed millions of infertile couples to experience the joy of having their own babies.

Just before midnight on 25 July 1978, the first baby born following in vitro fertilisation or IVF, as it is more commonly known, was born in the UK. Her name is Louise Joy Brown, and today she lives an ordinary life in a small town in England.

The media called Louise and the many other babies born through IVF treatment “test-tube” babies, referring to the fact that the embryos from which these babies developed were fertilised with sperm in a glass tube in a lab – or “in vitro” which literally mean “in glass” in Latin.

In the case of Louise, the lab scientist responsible for fertilising the egg was Jean Purdy, dubbed “the world’s first embryologist” by Time magazine.

Since then, IVF has been practiced for more than three decades across the world. It is a safe and trusted medical treatment, and its success rate is impressive.

IVF in a nutshell

While IVF treatment was originally created for women with damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, it is now the standard treatment for many causes of infertility. Some of the fertility challenges IVF is normally recommended for include severe endometriosis, advanced maternal age, decreased ovarian function, low ovarian reserve, severe male infertility including impaired sperm function or production, and unexplained infertility.

Very simply stated, during in vitro fertilization, the female partner’s eggs are collected on egg retrieval day and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The resulting embryo (fertilised egg) is then implanted into the uterus.

However, it is important to remember that IVF is not a single medical procedure or event, but a series of procedures that spans around 28 days and involves a number of steps and procedures, including a 7-day stay in the IVF lab for the fertilised eggs or embryos.

The first day of a typical 28-day IVF cycle is the first day of a period. Two or three days later, a patient will begin to take fertility medications to stimulate egg growth. A week later, a first scan will be done, followed by another scan two days later. On the 12th day, if a third scan confirms that the patient’s eggs are ready for retrieval, a trigger injection will prepare the mom-to-be for egg retrieval two days later.

It is on egg retrieval day that the eggs go to IVF lab, where they are fertilised by sperm that has been carefully prepared, and will spend six or seven days growing before the best quality embryos (fertilised eggs) are selected for transfer to the mom-to-be’s uterus.

IVF at Cape Fertility

At Cape Fertility, we achieve some of the best IVF success rates in the world.

We use patient-friendly protocols and provide patients with customised cycle sheets, describing exactly what happens on each day, and when and how each step must be completed – from what medications should be taken to the scheduled times when monitoring needs to be done.

This will be prepared and carefully monitored by a team of fertility experts. During IVF treatment at Cape Fertility, patients enjoy truly individualised and personalised care through the support of their own IVF co-ordinator, who has a 4-year University Degree as Bachelor of Nursing (or equivalent) and is very experienced in fertility treatment and IVF.

Our Cape Fertility IVF co-ordinator team includes Senior IVF Coordinator, Sr Heidi Clark, along with Sr Elaine Brenkman, Sr Lee Van Ryneveld, Sr Inari Mulke and Sr Tanya Moffat. You can meet our team of IVF co-ordinators at capefertility.co.za/ivf-co-ordinators.

Our IVF co-ordinators guide each patient through every one of the various steps of the IVF process, plan treatment dates and monitoring, show patients exactly how the medications should be taken and answer the practical questions while offering advice and support.

The role of embryologists

What happens in the IVF laboratory – and the skill of the embryologists – are crucial to the success of your IVF treatment.

It is on egg retrieval day that the eggs retrieved go our advanced IVF lab, where they spend six or seven days before the best quality embryos are selected for transfer into the mom-to-be’s uterus. During this time our team of embryologists collect as much information as possible about the eggs and embryos in order to select the best embryos for transfer and/or freezing.

As soon as the eggs arrive, one of our embryologists will screen the retrieved eggs, count them and assess them for maturity and quality. When the sperm that will be used to inseminate the eggs is received, whether from a partner or a donor, it is processed or “washed” to prepare it for insemination.

At Cape Fertility, our laboratory predominantly performs Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) – a procedure in which sperm is injected individually into mature eggs by an embryologist, using high-powered microscopes, specialised needles and micromanipulation skills.

After ICSI, the eggs are placed in a specially designed culture medium covered with oil that mimic the fluid in the fallopian tubes. It contains the proteins, amino acids and enzymes needed for embryo development. We also offer an advanced time-lapse incubator, the EMBRYOSCOPE(tm).

On the next day, the injected eggs are evaluated for fertilisation and our embryologist team will notify the parents-to-be, and will then continue to monitor the development of the embryos, contacting patients to provide updates every second day.

Five days after fertilisation, images of the embryos are sent to the fertility specialist who will discuss the embryo results with the patient and decide about the embryo transfer. The embryologist will then select the best embryo or embryos and load these into a catheter to be transferred to the mom-to-be’s uterus by the fertility specialist.

It is also the embryologists who will prepare eggs, sperm or embryos for freezing, where this required.

Meet Cape Fertility’s embryologists

At Cape Fertility, state of the art technology and dedicated embryology staff contribute to one of South Africa’s best IVF labs.

Our laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment such as EMBRYOSCOPE(tm) so as to provide optimum control of the environment for handling our eggs and embryos. We only use the highest quality products for sperm preparation, egg retrieval, and embryo culture.

Our embryologists work as a team, drawing on and combining their individual experiences and talents to define and establish the finest practices in all areas including IVF, egg freezing, frozen embryo transfer, ICSI and PGS/PGD.

Under the guidance of our Chief Embryologist Tshifhiwa Gloria Raidani, our embryologist team includes Zulaigha Williams, Teresa Ernest, Kirsty Abrahams, Samantha Benghu and Michaela Krishna.

As a unified team, guided by the highest ethical standards, our embryologists provide our patients with the best quality, individualized, compassionate fertility care.

Celebrating IVF and embryology success

At Cape Fertility, we celebrate the success we have been able to achieve thanks to the IVF treatment process and our world-class team of IVF co-ordinators and embryologists.

We invite you to meet with us and share in this success by simply clicking here

We value each individual patient and we look forward to providing you with individualised and personalised care, affordable quality fertility treatment, and higher success rates at our purpose-built premises in the beautiful city of Cape Town.