World Embryologist Day – 25 July

Each year on 25 July, #worldembryologistday is observed around the world, acknowledging the crucial role that these scientists play in helping millions of infertile couples worldwide to have the families they dream of.

Responsible for managing the care of the sperm, eggs and embryos in an IVF lab, embryologists are specialised fertility experts that are crucial to the success of any IVF treatment cycle. In this article, we meet the pioneers of embryology, as well as Medfem’s team of embryologists, and find out what their role in IVF entails.

Just 50 years ago, the term “embryologist” was unknown. But that changed on 25 July 1978 when the first baby to be born due to In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), Louise Joy Brown, was delivered by C-Section.

A crucial key to the success of the IVF treatment that led to Louise’s birth was the embryologist who cared for the eggs and sperm that was used to create the embryo that would eventually grow into baby Louise.

As a result, on Louise’s birthday on 25 July, World Embryologist Day is observed globally, recognising the critical role embryologists play in helping millions of infertile couples to have the families they dream of.

Pioneers of embryology

The Science Museum in London, UK, which hosted a “IVF: 6 Million Babies Later” exhibition a few years ago, told the story of the pioneers of embryology as shared below, naming Jean Purdy as the world’s first embryologist.

“In 1968 the embryologist Robert Edwards was just starting out on a new venture with the surgeon and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe. The pair were planning to use Steptoe’s expertise with early keyhole surgery to explore Edwards’ hope that human eggs could be removed from the body, fertilised and the resulting embryo placed back into the womb to bypass blocked reproductive tracts. It was an ambitious plan, especially as Edwards was yet to fertilise a human egg.

“This was the team that Jean Purdy joined. Hired as a lab technician by Edwards, she was tasked with managing the laboratory. But, in reality, she did much more. Like Edwards she was based in Cambridge, and she regularly drove the hundreds of miles to their clinic in Oldham, Greater Manchester, taking her away from home for days at a time. Purdy was so indispensable that when she was unable to travel while caring for her ailing mother, all work stopped for several months. Of that time Edwards recalled, ‘Jean’s cooperation had become crucial. It was no longer just Patrick and me. We had become a threesome.’

“Purdy was not just central to the running of the lab but also to the scientific work. She was a co-author with Robert Edwards on 26 academic publications between 1970 and 1985 and has been credited with being the first person ever to recognise and describe the formation of the early human blastocyst. Her role as an embryologist also led her to be the first person to witness the successful cell division of the embryo that would become Louise Brown, the first IVF baby.”

While Purdy was clearly integral to the development of IVF, sadly, she was lost to tragic and early death in 1985. Patrick Steptoe died in 1988, soon after Purdy, and also long before the Nobel Prize was awarded to Robert Edwards for the team’s work in 2010.

The role of embryologists in IVF

In vitro fertilization or IVF is a process of assisted reproduction therapy in which a woman’s eggs are collected and fertilised with sperm outside of her body to form an embryo, which is then transferred into her uterus to hopefully implant and become a pregnancy.

The primary medical professional involved with creating the embryos transferred during IVF is the embryologist. Embryologists are scientists involved in fertility treatment and reproductive research, who hold either a masters or doctorate degree.

Embryologists study sperm, eggs and embryos, and are the specialist laboratory staff who take care of human gametes and embryos in an optimal condition according to good laboratory practices.

The primary tasks of embryologists include determining the fertility levels of individuals; egg collection and processing; insemination; checking for fertilisation; monitoring embryo development; selecting the embryos for transfer; preservation of embryos, eggs and sperm; genetic testing; maintaining the laboratory’s optimum conditions; and managing sperm and egg banks.

Embryologists collect and care for the eggs and prepare them for insemination; assess, care for and prepare sperm samples; and inject eggs with sperm. They also do very detailed procedures such as selecting a single sperm to fertilise an egg, in an advanced procedure known as ICSI, short for intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Embryologists are also responsible for monitoring the resulting embryos as they develop for about five days before it is viable to transfer the embryos.

In addition to egg retrievals, fertilisation and embryo transfers, embryologists also perform or assist with vitrification or rapid freezing of eggs, sperm and embryos to preserve these for a future date. Embryologists will “grade” the embryos before placing them in frozen storage and are also responsible for thawing embryos, carefully monitoring the growth and development of the embryos before transfer.

Meet Medfem’s embryologist team

While couples undergoing IVF treatment may not spend much face-to-face time with the embryologist team, at Medfem Fertility Clinic, you can rest assured they are working hard in the lab to ensure the healthy development of your embryos!

We thank our dedicated team of embryologists here at Medfem Fertility Clinic for their knowledge and skills that have helped so many men and women achieve their dream of a family.

Our patients undergoing IVF treatment are supported by a full IVF lab team, including embryologists Vicky Wolf, Monique Cagnazzo and Marlize Swanepoel, as well as Margaretha Janse van Rensburg, Head of Endocrinology/Andrology; Karin Bosch, lab technologist and administrator; Cathleen van Staden, lab receptionist; and Swazi Kamhaise, general lab assistant.

The team works under the guidance of our Lab Director, Edolene Bosman, who directs and oversees all the operations, administration and technical aspects of the lab, as well as ensuring compliance with regulations, which requires advanced IVF and clinical laboratory knowledge and skills.

Supported by cutting-edge equipment and the latest technologies, our team of embryologists also keep our patients informed at every stage of the IVF lab process, by contacting our patients telephonically as soon as test results are in, for example, to report how many eggs have been fertilised, and after each examination – embryos are evaluated every second day – to provide patients with an update on the embryo quality and to answer any questions they may have.

At Medfem we believe in helping you reach your family dream through:

* World-Class Fertility for Everyone – we believe in making world-class fertility treatments available for everyone
* A Positive Fertility Journey – It is our joy and commitment to give you a positive outcome to your fertility journey
* Delivered With Empathy & Caring – So you may have a fond memory, of a feeling of empathy, caring and being part of the Medfem family

If you would like to meet one of our fertility specialists at Medfem Fertility Clinic, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

Our Fertility Specialists can also meet with You During a Virtual Consultation Via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.

We look forward to meeting you at Medfem Fertility Clinic!


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