04 October 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 578
British scientist Professor Robert Edwards, 85, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine for his ground-breaking in vitro fertilisation (IVF) work.
Professor Edwards' pioneering work began in the 1950s and cumulated in success in July 1978 when Louise Brown, the first 'test-tube' baby, was born in the UK. Working with Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988, he successfully adapted a technique previously used in animals to safely remove eggs from the ovaries, fertilise them outside the human body and implant them into the womb. Since the birth of Louise Brown, more than four million babies worldwide have been born through IVF.
The Karolinska Institutet, responsible for selecting the Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, said Professor Edwards' contributions represented a 'milestone in the development of modern medicine'. In a statement it said: '[Professor Edwards'] achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity including more than 10 percent of all couples worldwide'.
Professor Edwards' work laid the foundations for further developments in fertility treatment, including techniques such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
Speaking on behalf of Professor Edwards and his family, his wife, Ruth, said: 'The family are thrilled and delighted that Professor Edwards has been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for the development of IVF.
'The success of this research has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide'.
Martin Johnson, Professor of Reproductive Sciences at the University of Cambridge, also welcomed the news. 'I am absolutely delighted. This is long overdue', he said. 'Bob's work has always been controversial, but he has never shrunk from confronting that controversy. He was a real visionary and always ahead of his time on so many issues - not just IVF - also on PGD in the 1960s, stem cells in the 1970s, and the whole process of thinking ethically.
'He is also an amazing human being - warm and generous', he said.
Mike McNamee, chief executive of Bourn Hall, the world's first assisted conception clinic co-founded by Professor Edwards in 1980, said: 'Bob Edwards is one of our greatest scientists. His inspirational work in the early 1960s led to a breakthrough that has enhanced the lives of millions of people worldwide'.
Dr Luca Gianaroli, chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), of which Professor Edwards is a founding member and its first chairman in 1985, said: 'Without Bob there would be no ESHRE and no Human Reproduction [the journal], and all of us working in reproductive medicine would be the poorer for that'.
Born in Yorkshire in 1925, Professor Edwards was driven by a motivation to help infertile couples conceive. 'The most important thing in life is having a child', he once said. 'Nothing is more special than a child'.
Professor Edwards was awarded the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 2001 by the Lasker Foundation for his work in IVF.