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The Evolution of Embryology: From Ancient Speculations to Modern IVF Breakthroughs – ARC Summit

by | Apr 11, 2024 | ARC Summit, News

The Evolution of Embryology: From Ancient Speculations to Modern IVF Breakthroughs – ARC Summit

Good afternoon. I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Abdullah and other distinguished physicians like Reis for the past 18 years. Dr. Abdullah is notably passionate about his patients. Today, I will take you on a historical journey through embryology and then discuss modern laboratory techniques in in-vitro fertilization, including sperm and oocyte processing, and the development of embryos.

Embryology, the science of beginnings, raises profound questions about the origins of life, questions that humanity has pondered throughout history. The recorded history of embryology begins with Hippocrates, who supported preformationism—the idea that a miniature human exists pre-formed in the sperm or egg. This concept was visually represented during his time and persisted in various forms.

Aristotle, often regarded as the first embryologist, made observational studies and proposed that life arises from an amorphous form, evolving through several stages. This idea was somewhat speculative but laid the groundwork for future scientific inquiry.

Later, Galen of Pergamon introduced the concept of a non-material vital form contributing to life, aligning with theological views by likening it to a divine breath, which resonated with religious scholars.

Leonardo Da Vinci, known for his art, also sketched detailed drawings of fetuses from dissections, promoting the quantitative study of human development. Following him, William Harvey made micro-observations of embryos, advocating for the idea of gradual development rather than spontaneous generation.

Fast forward to 1978, a landmark year when the first IVF baby was born, a milestone achieved by Steptoe and Bob Edwards in the UK, with Edwards later receiving a Nobel Prize for this groundbreaking work.

The 1980s and 1990s saw significant advancements in clinical embryology, providing hope to many who wished to become parents. Innovations such as ICSI in 1990 revolutionized treatment for male factor infertility, and the development of better media and cryopreservation techniques like vitrification extended fertility preservation options to cancer patients and for social reasons.

The integration of genetics and reproductive medicine brought about techniques like embryo biopsy and preimplantation genetic testing, allowing for the deselection of chromosomally abnormal embryos. The latest advancements include screening for polygenic diseases, although this is not yet standard practice.

This brief history underscores the profound evolution of embryology from ancient speculation to sophisticated, life-enhancing technologies.

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