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Medical Article
Treating Infertility: From witch craft to cloning
 
 Author : Dr.Umesh N Jindal Jindal IVF and Sant Memorial Nursing Home Chandigarh.
 
Recent reports in newspapers regarding claims of attempted human cloning have caused a flutter in the scientific community. The ethics of such a venture are being debated among intelligentia, religious and political circles. Are we standing at the brink of another breakthrough in infertility management or there is a disaster waiting to happen? Scientists are playing Gods? We are trying to create life, new species or Frankensteinís monsters?

Way back in 1978-79 when I was a OBGYN student there were similar debates, uproar and criticism when Luise Jo Brown was born through IVF. So strong was the social desire and demand that this experiment which was never tested rigorously for safety and efficacy on animals was accepted rapidly world over. Fortunately it has withstood the test of time and has become the standard of care now. IVF has proven to be a boon for millions of infertile couples. Nearly 1-2% all births are through IVF in developed countries.

THE JOURNEY

PRE-HISTORIC ERA :

Indian mythology has numerous references which suggest use of assisted reproductive techniques (ART). I will quote few examples, Lord Rama and his brothers were born after a Yajna carried out by Shringi Rishi. A fruit developed after thisYajna which was fed to the three wives of King Dashrath. This could be IVF. Lord Balram the elder brother of Lord Krishna was transplanted from the womb of imprisoned Devki to the uterus of Rohini and shown as abortion to Kansa (this is similar to embryo transfer). All the Pandavas were born to Kunti as a result of invocation of various Gods by Kunti after her husband became incapable of reproduction due to a curse .Hundred Kauravas (clones) were created out of Gandhariís conceptus. There are several other examples in Greek and Christian mythology also. Perhaps every religion has a Goddess of fertility. There are many temples in India where people still go for treatment of infertility.

Medieval Times

Science did not progress much. Witchcraft was perhaps only treatment. Self styled tantriks and witches devised various treatments. These varied from powders, potions and various ghastly and obnoxious rituals. Such practices are still prevalent in modern days also.

With the dawn of modern science in 17th and 18th centuries the developments began to happen. Considering the modern pace these were very slow.However these basic discoveries laid the foundation of modern techniques.Despription of the follicle by De Graaf in 1672 and spermatozoa by Leuwen Hock during same period were the first attempts which identified female and male gametes. It took two centuries before Hertwig could demonstrate in 1875 using his experiments in sea urchins that only one sperm cell penetrates egg and fertilizes it. First artificial insemination was performed by John Hunter in 1786 and in 1866 Sims performed donor insemination. The success of these procedures demonstrated for the first time that gametes could survive outside the body and reproduction could be dissociated from coitus.