By Danelle Frisbie © 2008
The photos you are viewing here are history in the making – literally!
Captured by Dr. Jacques Donnez for the first time in clear photograph, these images show ovulation just as it occurs in the human female. Because ovulation happens so infrequently (13 times per year in the average American woman), happens rather quickly (max of 15 minutes from beginning to end), and because we never know for sure when ovulation will exactly take place, it has been very difficult to clearly video or photograph this event. The release of a mature egg from the ovary in a woman’s body is so sensitive to hormones and various factors at play, that to perfectly photograph the spectacular event is, so far, a once-in-human-history type of occurrence.
These images were taken when Dr. Donnez, department head of gynecology at UCL in Brussels, Belgium, accidentally happened upon ovulation occurring while preparing to perform a partial hysterectomy on his 45-year-old client.
Side Note: Hysterectomies continue to be the most common (some claim, unnecessary) surgery performed upon females (as adults) in North America. While circumcision is the most common, unnecessary surgery performed upon males (as newborns) in the United States.
Donnez' photos will be published in the professional journal, Fertility and Sterility. They provide us with new information on human ovulation. Prior to this series of images, it was still commonly believed that ovulation took place quickly - in an almost explosive manner. Donnez' images capture the event occurring over a series of almost 15 minutes, from beginning to end. "The release of the oocyte from the ovary is a crucial event in human reproduction," reports Donnez. "These pictures are clearly important to better understand the mechanism."
Dr. Alan McNeilly of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproduction Unit in Edinburgh, UK reported that, "[This] really is a fascinating insight into ovulation, and to see it in real life is an incredibly rare occurrence. It really is a pivotal moment in the whole process, the beginnings of life in a way." McNeilly stressed that up until Donnez' images, we've only successfully (clearly) photographed ovulation occurring in other animal species - never in humans. Images we previously used to study human ovulation were fuzzy at best.
In these photos you will see the mature follicle - a fluid-filled sac on the surface of the ovary containing the ovum (egg). Shortly before the ovum emerges, enzymes break down the tissue of the follicle leading to the ovum's release. We then see a red-colored ballooning and a miniscule hole that appears at the top of the follicle. The ovum leaves the ovarian follicle, protected by a sac of support cells. It travels into the fallopian tube where it makes the journey into the uterus.
After the release of a ripe ovum, about 24 hours exist before it is no longer viable. It is only during this 1 day that a woman may become pregnant. However, if live sperm were already present at the cervix or in the uterus before ovulation occurred, pregnancy could take place without consecutive sperm introduction. Sperm typically remain viable for about 72 hours (3 days) within the confines of a woman's body.
More on Dr. Jacques Donnez for those interested:
Photographer of these landmark images, Donnez graduated from the Catholic University of Louvain in 1972. He completed his internships in obstetrics and gynecology and surgery there in 1978, and went on to complete his residency internship in the Department of Gynecology. Currently, Donnez is Professor and Chairman of the Catholic University of Louvain and is Department Head of Gynecology.
Donnez has authored more than 800 publications in the field and is a reviewer for a number of journals including Fertility and Sterility, Human Reproduction, Journal of Gynecological Surgery, Gynaecological Endoscopy and Références en Gynécologie Obstétrique.
Donnez was a founding member of the International Society for Gynecological Endoscopy, the European Society of Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the European Association of Gynecological Laser Endoscopy and the European Society for Gynecological Endoscopy. He is a member of a number of other organizations, both locally and internationally. As an acknowledged expert in his field, Donnez has been invited to speak at universities all over the world.