Doctor who was part of the first team to deliver an IVF baby is behind new treatment to help aspiring parents
Doctor Steve Green was an IVF pioneer — and he is now providing hope to couples across the region.
As head embryologist at the Origin Fertility Care, it is his job to give his patients the best chance possible of getting the baby they so desperately want.
One in six couples in Northern Ireland is affected by infertility and there are 2,000 new referrals every year to the NHS for treatment.
However, success is far from guaranteed.
According to official figures, a woman under the age of 35 who goes through IVF has a 32% chance of giving birth. This drops to less than 2% for women aged 45 and over.
Despite the depressing statistics, only one round of IVF is available on the NHS in Northern Ireland, meaning that thousands of would-be parents turn to private clinics to help them get pregnant.
With IVF costing thousands of pounds a cycle — not to mention the emotional and physical trauma that goes with the treatment — it is crucial that clinics use the most up-to-date technology and procedures available.
And this is exactly where Dr Green comes in at Origin Fertility Care.
A true IVF pioneer, he was part of the team behind the first IVF twins and triplets in the world in April 1982 — just four years after the birth of the first ever test tube baby, Louise Brown.
After spending 18 months developing their own techniques and protocols, Dr Green and the team at the Royal Free Hospital in London announced one of their patients was expecting test tube twins.
At the same time, a separate IVF team revealed a woman in their care was expecting twins after going through IVF.
Dr Green, a father-of-three, said: “It was touch and go which would be delivered first.
“In fact, our patient delivered six weeks prematurely, and as such they became the first UK test tube twins.
“The babies were born at around midnight, and it was a great privilege for me to be in attendance at the birth.
“The media coverage at the time did benefit the team as we became internationally known, but served as the demise of the Royal Free Unit.
“Personality conflicts and political difficulties resulted in us moving to the Cromwell Hospital in London, where we established the first private London IVF unit at the end of 1982. By 1984 we had achieved the first IVF set of UK triplets.
“This event was significant, as it was the catalyst for our research in looking at what was the optimum number of embryos to offer the highest pregnancy rate without the risk of a multiple pregnancy.
“This ultimately evolved into being a part of the legislation that governs all the IVF treatments today.”
So, having been involved in the world of IVF for more than three decades, Dr Green has seen some incredible advancements over the years.
And he believes that the use of time-lapse technology, which is not routinely available on the NHS, is proving crucial in helping him in his work.
“Patients pay a lot of money for IVF to just gamble with it,” he explained. “If they go for a treatment and it doesn’t work, then they can’t come back and say they expected something at the end of it and ask for their money back.
“That’s why it’s so important that we do everything we can to increase their chances of getting pregnant.
“Time lapse has been around for a long time, but only relatively recently has the technology been available for routine use in the IVF laboratory.
“What we’ve learned about embryo development over the past four years using this technology has been revolutionary.
“As a professional, it is very exciting how I can do my very best for the patient. There is nothing worse than not doing your best for the patient.
“Prior to time lapse, we would have examined an embryo after 24 hours and made a decision about whether it should be used based on how it looked.
“Now we can watch the embryo grow second by second, and we now know that one quarter of embryos that we used to consider good quality in fact show some irregularity in their development.
“By excluding those embryos from our selection process using time-lapse imaging, we have significantly increased pregnancy rates.
“Even more recently, we now have computer algorithms that compare an embryo’s growth to a database of thousands of embryos that have produced a pregnancy.
“That allows us to predict with much greater accuracy what are the best embryos for implantation.”
According to Dr Green, infertility is becoming an increasing problem.
He estimates that only 20 years ago, just one in 10 couples had problems conceiving.
“I think there are many reasons for this, but changes in lifestyle, nutrition, and environmental factors have all been reported as having an effect,” he said.
“There are about 25 common causes of problems we see that prevent conception.
“About 50% are female factors and about 50% are male factors, and these range from physical damage to fallopian tubes, ovulatory problems, the age of the woman and poor or absent sperm in men.
“When I started, the technology we were developing was aimed at treating female infertility only.
“It wasn’t until the early 1990s that we could treat male factor causes.
“Thirty years ago, everything we take for granted today was new and experimental.
“It’s very exciting for everyone involved.
“Today, we have highly sophisticated techniques, so that there is no form of infertility that cannot be overcome.
“We’re still striving to improve the success rates of what we do, but the IVF field is unrecognisable today compared to what it was when I started.
“It’s a great feeling, knowing that you’re helping people, and I know how much it means to the people who haven’t been able to conceive.
“We’re a real team and we care about our patients and we’re delighted when a baby is born.
“We have even had a baby named after a member of staff recently.
“I haven’t had a baby called Steve yet, but you never know.”
- To speak to Origin Fertility Care about fertility treatments they offer, telephone their support team on 028 9076 1713, or log on to www.originfertilitycare.com.
Belfast Telegraph Digital