IVF endocrinology: the Edwards era

Stephen Hillier

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Through pioneering human in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) as a global infertility treatment, Robert Edwards and his clinical partner Patrick Steptoe launched the field of IVF endocrinology. Following repeated failures with oocytes collected in human menopausal gonadotrophin (HMG) primed cycles timed to injection of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), the first successful IVF pregnancy came from a spontaneous menstrual cycle. Intensive endocrine monitoring was used to track preovulatory follicular development and collect a single ripe egg timed to the natural luteinising hormone (LH) surge. Despite this groundbreaking achievement, superovulation was clearly required to make IVF treatment clinically robust and reliable. Ovarian stimulation with clomiphene citrate was used to achieve the first maternity from a superovulated human IVF cycle in 1980. HMG/HCG regimens were then successfully introduced-including substitution of 'pure' follicle-stimulating hormone as the principal ovarian stimulant. The application and success of IVF treatment were dramatically enhanced by the introduction of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone analogues that enabled elective control of endogenous gonadotrophin release during ovarian stimulation. Programmed gonadotrophin regimes yielding double-digit oocyte numbers became normal: "more is better" was the ethos. Bob Edwards expressed increasing concern over the cost, complexity and potential long-term health risks of such high-order ovarian stimulation. In later life he repeatedly called for a return to minimalist approaches based on the natural menstrual cycle to improve oocyte quality over quantity. This article reviews the application of superovulation to human IVF and celebrates Edwards' abiding impact on the field, which firmly grounds him in the reproductive endocrinology pantheon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)799-808
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Human Reproduction
Issue number12
Early online date10 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • endocrinology
  • gonadotrophins
  • oocyte quality
  • ovarian follicle
  • Fertilization


Dive into the research topics of 'IVF endocrinology: the Edwards era'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this