Reproductive Biology


Advances in Reproductive Biology Offer new Hope for Childless Couples

Mankind’s earliest recorded attempt to unveil the mysteries of reproductive biology dates back to 275 BC and a Greek scholar named Herophilus who, at the time, was a practitioner and teacher of medicine. It was he who first provided a relatively accurate description of the various components of both the male and female genitalia and related internal structures, although his views regarding their probable function were, in many cases, somewhat distant from what we now know to be the case.

Such misconception persisted for many centuries and were replaced or added to by various authorities during successive eras. It was only in the early 17th century that William Harvey first speculated that pregnancy might be the result of a fusion of a sperm from the male with an egg from the female, even though it would be another two centuries before a mammalian ovum was actually observed. It is this simple premise, though unsubstantiated at the time, that was to provide the foundation for the steady growth in the understanding of reproductive biology that gynaecologists, midwives and researchers apply in the practice of their professions today.

Much of the focus of this knowledge was, until relatively recently, levelled at developing methods for preventing pregnancy and current contraceptive practices that rely on pills and implants are light years ahead of the spermicidal honey and sodium carbonate mixture used in ancient Egypt or the chemical soaked linen sheaths that were the counterpart of the modern condom in 16th century Italy.

Today, now that effective contraception is a fait accompli, the focus of this science has moved again. This time, it is targeting those who, for one reason or another, are experiencing difficulties in having children and has seen the emergence of another practical application of this branch of biology known as assisted reproduction technology (ART). Among the solutions now available to those denied parenthood due to infertility issues are special medications such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GRH), artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation or IVF, or contracting the services of a surrogate. In particular, when performing IVF, whether on the aspirant mother or her surrogate, meticulous care is required during each stage of the process. Both male and female gametes must be harvested with care, stored under the strictest environmental conditions where required and handled with full aseptic precautions throughout.   

For these purposes, a range of specialised apparatus, consumables and disposables has been developed over the past four decades and designed for use in the collection, safe storage and fusion of gametes. These are now available from companies such as MTG, Cryo Biosystem and Planer that are among the industry’s leaders in what has now become an increasingly important branch of applied reproductive biology.

Whether one may require the cryogenic equipment for maintaining gametes, embryos and other biological materials at a safe temperature, the straws to contain the samples or the various systems with which to transfer and manipulate these materials, there should be no problem. All of these items and more are available to clinics and researchers in South Africa from the Pretoria-based supplier IEPSA. With a history of supplying hospitals, universities and private laboratories dating from 1980, IEPSA is uniquely positioned to provide all of the requirements for assisted reproductive biology.

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