What would you think if I told you that some day soon، robots will perform IVF? Or that we’ll be able to take cells from your body، turn them into sperm or eggs، and give you genetic children — even if you are infertile?
What if I said the time is not far off when sex is kept for fun، and technology routinely used for reproduction?
Perhaps you’d view me with the kind of suspicion levelled at my late colleagues، Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe، when they created the first ‘test-tube baby’ in 1978. Since then eight million IVF babies have been born worldwide، but this now commonplace practice was once viewed with derision and fear. People accused us of ‘playing God’ and ‘taking science too far’.
As an IVF pioneer of 40 years and head of CARE، the largest IVF group in the UK، I’ve been lucky enough to experience it all where fertility is concerned.
I worked alongside the ‘fathers of IVF’ and went on to spearhead research into male infertility and the use of donor eggs. Now، however، I have my sights set on the future. And what an exciting future it is.
IVF is now about far more than giving infertile people babies. It’s part of a web of technologies that allow for the removal of unhealthy genes، the curing of older children with terminal illnesses via so‑called ‘saviour siblings and the enabling of women to carry babies to full term who couldn’t previously do so.
But there are even bolder prospects on the horizon. Take robots conducting IVF. Not too long ago it would have been the stuff of science fiction، but modern robotics only requires economies of scale for this to actually happen. And it will be a welcome development because the fact is، although we have more data now to help us، the whole of IVF is still blighted by inconsistencies، not only in how embryos are graded but also in how they’re implanted.
It sounds terrible to say، but a patient is lucky if she has a good obstetrician and unlucky if she doesn’t. A robot، however، never has a bad day. Nor does it sneeze or need to pee at an inopportune time، or have to pick up the phone to his or her spouse between cases because there’s an urgent problem at home. Its treatment will be consistent — and it will achieve better results in consequence.
Because of the global development and need for IVF، I’d say the prospect of a robot extracting eggs، injecting sperm، selecting the most viable embryos and then transferring them is feasible، if not imperative.