As we celebrate 40 years of IVF we recap on the journey of The Hewitt Fertility Centre from where it all began in 1989 to today.
First babies born at the IVF Unit (1990)
After being established as a branch of The Royal Liverpool Hospital and beginning to treat patients in 1989, the first baby born as a result of IVF treatment carried out at the IVF unit (which now we know as the Hewitt Fertility Centre) was delivered in 1990. This marked the successful foundation of IVF treatment in Liverpool.
Move to The Women’s Hospital (1995)
The Hewitt Fertility Centre has had a number of locations over its 28 year history; however it wasn’t until moving to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital in 1995 that it really started to establish itself as one of the most successful and busiest fertility clinics in the UK.
From the early days, the Centre enabled both NHS and self- funding patients to be treated. It wasn’t long before phones began to ring and the clinics became busy; the demand for IVF treatment has grown steadily ever since, and the Centre has been responsive to this and gradually grown its capacity.
In 1995, the former Women's Hospital in Catharine Street, Liverpool Maternity Hospital and Mill Road Maternity Hospital amalgamated to form the Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, and The Hewitt Fertility Centre found its current home. New technology enables the freezing and storage of embryos from this time, and the first baby born as a result of a frozen embryo transfer duly arrived in 1996.
The new location enabled the Centre to expand its facilities, labs and staffing levels, allowing it to treat thousands of patients every year. Currently, around 6,000 embryos are stored, alongside the frozen sperm of 2,000 men. 1,000 babies were born over the last year as a result of treatments administered at The Hewitt Fertility Centre.
Naming of the Centre (2002)
Jonathan Hewitt, one of the lead Consultant Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at the clinic, was a passionate pioneer of fertility treatment in Liverpool, and we owe so much to him. Following his untimely passing in 2002, it was decided to rename the centre in his honour.
Mr Hewitt trained at Liverpool University before working at the Bourne Hall Clinic near Cambridge with Dr Robert Edwards, who worked with Dr Patrick Steptoe on the conception of Louise Brown, the first baby born as a result of IVF treatment.
For more than a decade, he dedicated his life to helping hundreds of couples have children they thought they would never have, by developing and administering the new IVF treatments.
Mr Hewitt sadly passed away at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer; however, his passion and commitment live on in the hearts and minds of all of the devoted staff, who continue the amazing work done at centre that proudly carries his name.
Freezing Techniques (2008)
Whilst we have had babies born as a result of frozen embryo transfer as far back as 1996, the early freezing programmes had limited success; excess eggs were largely destroyed due to them not surviving the unrefined processes available at the time.
The process of freezing eggs, embryos and sperm as we now know it allows couples who suffer with fertility issues for a multitude of reasons to realise their dreams of raising children.
At The Hewitt Fertility Centre, there has continued to be significant investment in the latest technology, and we began to utilise modern egg and sperm freezing techniques from 2008. There are now around 7,000 embryos in storage.
Many people born as a result of successful IVF treatment now have younger siblings that were conceived at exactly the same time, but born years apart due to the increased success rate from freezing embryos.
Time Lapse Monitoring provided to all patients (2013)
To ensure fertilised eggs are stored safely, we have advanced incubation techniques that allow us to mimic the environment within the body, allowing them to develop naturally.
While this was happening, prior to 2013 an embryologist needed to intermittently check the development of the eggs by removing them from refrigeration to be examined under a microscope; historically this meant jeopardising the quality of the eggs as well as potentially allowing issues with the embryo to develop unnoticed.
The EmbryoScope time-lapse system, utilised here at The Hewitt Fertility Centre for all patients since 2013, is a revolutionary innovation that allows us to monitor embryos through the full course of their development. The specially designed incubator with a built in camera and microscope takes an image of the embryos every ten minutes. As a result, time-lapse videos of individual embryos are generated over the two to five days they remain in the incubator, while the embryos stay undisturbed. Advanced software also allows us to use the embryo development information to select the best quality embryos for treatment.
This technology has reportedly led to an increase in ongoing pregnancy rate of 23%, while early pregnancy loss has been reduced by 36%.
Download our full history info-graphic here.