fertilization

The man who showed the secrets of human life to the world

Photographer who revealed the origins of life: Princeton IVF blog
Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson pioneering embryo images

This year, someone who revealed the secrets of human reproduction quietly passed away, and you probably never heard of him... 

The Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson is not exactly a household name, but his photographs adorn the offices of many fertility clinics across the world and his images of human reproduction and early human life are known throughout the world.

Those pictures, such as the one above, were first published in a Life Magazine article in 1965 called “The Drama of Life Before Birth.” and later on in a book entitled “A Child Is Born.” His photos were even shown in the PBS series NOVA, in an episode entitled, "The Odyssey of Life."

Nilsson developed techniques for microphotography that enabled him to produce stunning images of something was at one time invisible, the origins of human life. Today we live in a world where IVF is widely available, images of human embryos, eggs and sperm can downloaded to your phone in seconds and every OBGYN has an ultrasound in his or her office.  These are just things we take for granted.

In 1965, what Nilsson did was truly amazing. He revealed to us a hidden world, and what he shared with the world was even more amazing than fiction, a glimpse of the world that fertility specialists and embryologists see every day.

How old is too old to try IVF ?

With stories of 45 year celebrities having babies (and sometimes even twins and triplets) with high tech treatments, most people think that age is not a barrier to successful treatment.  When using donor eggs from a young egg donor, that is definitely true. The chances for success with donor egg ivf is excellent, even for women in their late 40's. However that is not the case in women using their own eggs. Pregnancies in women undergoing fertility treatment without the use of a donor over 45 are very unusual.  A recent report from Florida describes a 46 year old woman who is reported to be oldest woman to conceive from IVF with her own eggs. Is this a major breakthrough? Not really. The main determinant over whether a fertilized egg will develop into a healthy baby is whether the embryo is genetically abnormal. Genetically normal embryos are common in 25 year olds but pregnancy rates are never 100%. Likewise, the vast majority of  45 year olds' embryos are abnormal, and so the pregnancy rates would be expected to be quite low but not exactly 0%. When confronted with these odds, most couples would chose not to try.

Do human embryos like music? Maybe

embryo-ivf-music.jpg

For many years, people would talk to their plants to try to make them to grow better. In a new twist on this same idea, IVF researchers in Spain fertilized eggs (using ICSI) and cultured half of the eggs with music and half without.  It turns out that the eggs exposed to music were more likely to fertilize.  Click here for more.