IVF turns 30

As Louise Brown cuts her birthday cake today, chances are she won't be thinking of the 3 million babies across the world, including more than 80,000 Australians, who have followed in her footsteps.

Ms Brown, who works for a shipping company in Bristol, made history when she became the world's first baby born by IVF 30 years ago, but the mother-of-one has always preferred the quiet life, and has no plans to celebrate. "I might go out with my friends or I might have a meal with the family. I'm planning on having a quiet one," she said yesterday.

But for Australian fertility experts, her birthday is cause for celebration. In three decades, IVF has evolved to the point where doctors now predict pregnancy rates could double within five years and the genetic make-up of eggs could be scanned to guarantee their success.

Within 30 years, babies could be conceived with artificial sperm and grown in man-made wombs and genetic diseases, such as Huntington's and cystic fibrosis, could be switched off using artificial chromosomes while the embryo is still in the laboratory.

"The technology has been significantly refined to a point where our success rate has doubled in the past 10 years and I see it hitting 50 per cent within another five," the director of IVF Australia, Michael Chapman, said yesterday. About 41,000 cycles of IVF are performed in Australia each year, resulting in about 10,000 babies - or one in every 33 children.

"When this lot of babies grows up, we will have about eight federal politicians who are IVF-lings," Professor Chapman said. "It has become so routine now and soon it will be commonplace."

The next giant leap in IVF will involve screening eggs using polarised light to assess their molecular make-up before fertilisation. About 50 per cent of eggs lack miotic spindles, preventing the cells dividing properly. The eggs can be fertilised but will never become viable pregnancies.

"At the moment, we can't tell which eggs will make it and once we start routine screening, the success rates should rise and miscarriage rate drop," he said.

Poppy Kougellis, 40, was told she would never have children because her ovaries did not produce enough healthy eggs.

Now a mother of 11-month-old Thomas, she spent three years trying to conceive naturally, followed by two years on IVF. On her 11th cycle of treatment, she produced only one egg and was told it had a 5 per cent chance of success. "That egg, our lone ranger, became Thomas," Ms Kougellis, now pregnant with twins, said.

"We had been put in the 'too hard basket' by so many doctors that we bought a dog and resigned ourselves to it just being the three of us forever. Now we are about to become a family of five. All the heartache, tears and injections have been worth it."