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Test Tube Babies

The world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, weighing five pounds twelve ounces, was delivered by a Caesarean operation at Oldham District General Hospital, Greater Manchester, on 26 July 1978.

Louise’s birth was cloaked in secrecy. Even her father John’s first visit to see her in hospital was under the eye of police officers, who lined the corridor outside.

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His daughter was the first to be born through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), a process in which an egg is removed from a woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory, before being implanted into the uterus.

The treatment is now used routinely to enable couples with a range of fertility problems to conceive a child, and also to allow same-sex couples and single mothers to have children.

By 2013, more than five million people worldwide had been born through this process. But in 1978 it was highly experimental, and Louise really was a “miracle”.

The two men who pioneered the treatment – gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Robert Edwards – had gone through hundreds of embryo transfers before Louise was conceived.

The pair had joined forces 10 years earlier with skills that perfectly complemented one another – Edwards having developed a way to fertilise human eggs within the laboratory and Steptoe having devised a method for obtaining the eggs from the ovaries.

When Louise’s mother Lesley was put in contact with Steptoe by her doctor, she was warned there was a “one in a million” chance of success. So when it worked, it was such a momentous scientific advancement that the birth had to be filmed – under agreement with the government – to give documented evidence that Louise was indeed her mother’s child.

Even before her mother was able to hold her newborn, Louise had undergone around 60 different tests to ensure she was “normal”.

Louise’s parents took her on a world tour following her birth, including to Japan (pictured below).