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IVF helps many

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2010 has been awarded to Robert G Edwards for the development of in vitro fertilisation, better known as IVF. It is thanks to this method that many infertile couples can now have children.

1978 saw the birth of the very first "test tube baby". It was the high point of the research careers of Robert Edwards and his late colleague, gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe. A brand new area of medicine has emerged since the 1950s through the work of Robert Edwards, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2010 for the development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

A total of 12,000 IVF treatments are given in Sweden each year, with 29% leading to live births. This translates into around 3,500 babies a year.

On 1 July 1997 infertility was classified as a chronic disorder that must be treated. This means that childless couples are entitled to treatment through the public healthcare system, usually one to three attempts. Waiting times can extend over several years.

Professor Outi Hovatta believes that 90% could fall pregnant if they were given an unlimited number of attempts and accepted donated sperm or eggs.

Under the National Board of Health and Welfare's regulations, healthcare staff are allowed to implant just one embryo per attempt, or two in exceptional circumstances. The risk of premature birth and other complications rises significantly if a woman is carrying more than one foetus. Research shows that women are just as likely to become pregnant with one embryo as two.

Children born as a result of IVF are just as healthy as other children.

In Sweden, egg donation is permitted through university clinics only.

How IVF works today

  • Hormones are given to the woman to make more eggs mature from one of the ovaries.
  • Mature eggs from the woman's ovaries used to be extracted using keyhole surgery. Today, ovarian follicles are located using ultrasound and the eggs are extracted with a thin needle.
  • Sperm are added to the egg so that fertilisation can take place. The fertilised egg begins to divide and develops into an embryo.
  • The young embryo is returned to the womb where it attaches to the lining.

Sources:, "Vänta med barn" by Ulla Waldenström (Karolinska Institutet University Press), Vårdguiden, Outi Hovatta.

Text: Helena Mayer, Published in Medicinsk Vetenskap (Medical Science) no 4, 2010