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World's first test-tube baby pays tribute to Cambridge pioneers who gave her life

Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube baby" Photo: PA Images

The world's first test-tube baby has paid tribute to the fertility pioneers who gave her and millions of others life as she celebrates her 35th birthday.

Louise Brown was born at Oldham General Hospital on July 25, 1978, after her parents Lesley and John became the first parents to successfully undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Her birth attracted controversy, with religious leaders expressing concern over the use of artificial intervention and some raising fears that science was creating "Frankenbabies" who could experience medical difficulties later in life.

There are now thought to be more than 5.5 million IVF babies worldwide and, as she prepared to celebrate her birthday with a private family meal, Mrs Brown said she hoped the public could now see the benefits of the breakthrough.

"When I was born they all said it shouldn't be done and that it was messing with God and nature but it worked and obviously it was meant to be.

"It's helped millions all around the world and if it can help improve success rates, obviously it's a good thing.

"I've now had my own son without IVF and lots of people I know or have heard of have gone on to have children naturally.

"That shows that it is just the beginning of life that's a little bit different, the rest is just the same."

– Louise Brown

Mrs Brown, whose younger sister Natalie was also the product of IVF, now lives near Bristol. She is married and has a six-year-old son, Cameron.

She recently unveiled a plaque to honour IVF pioneers gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and reproductive biologist Robert Edwards at Bourn Hall, the clinic they founded in Cambridge and where the techniques and drugs now used worldwide were first developed.

Louise Brown has led tributes today for IVF pioneer Professor Sir Robert Edwards (left) after his death at the age of 87 Credit: PA Images

Their research led to the successful fertilisation of a human egg outside the body and the transfer of the resulting embryo to the womb.

Sir Robert, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2010, died aged 87 in April this year. Steptoe died in 1988 and did not receive the prize as it is not awarded posthumously.

Mrs Brown spoke of her sadness at the death of Sir Robert - who she described as "grandad Bob". She added that she remembered Steptoe as a "gentle giant".

"Without Patrick and Bob's help, mum wouldn't have had me," she said.

"As I got older, mum explained to me how they had both helped.

"Bob was like a grandad to me and I felt very, very sad to hear of his death.

"He was so well liked and so many people owe so much to his work."

– Louise Brown

She called for IVF to be made more readily available and said more people should have access to it on the NHS.

"It is difficult to say what it is like to be the first test-tube baby as I have been brought up with it. People ask what it feels like, but it's just always been there; it's my life," she added.

"I understand more now and I just think my mum was fantastic.

"I think she was just very brave but I suppose if you're told you can't have children, you'll do anything."