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Tributes to Professor Sir Robert Edwards

22 April 2013
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 700

Since Professor Sir Robert Edwards died on 10 April, tributes to the man and his work have been pouring in from across the globe. A selection of these tributes has been compiled below.

'Bob Edwards had an excitement about science that was highly infectious. He seemed to have time to read everything, and the vision to see what was important and where the future lay. If he was enthusiastic about your work, he would embrace it like a cause. He was not interested in recognition, he was interested in progress. Bob was part of the fabric of our world, an almost elemental force that swept so many of us before it. I miss him.'

Dr Sue Avery (Director of the Fertility Centre at Birmingham Women's Hospital, and one of Professor Edwards' graduate students)

'I had the privilege of getting to know and admire Bob when I was starting my own career in science. His unbounded and infectious enthusiasm for his research, despite huge technical obstacles and the scepticism of many of his colleagues, was an inspiration. He was driven not only by confidence in his ability to overcome the technical difficulties but also by his understanding of the distress that infertility can cause. The Nobel Prize was long in coming. Thank goodness it wasn't too late.'

Professor Colin Blakemore (Director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the School of Advanced Study's Institute of Philosophy)

'Few biologists have so positively and practically impacted on humankind. Bob's boundless energy, his innovative ideas, and his resilience despite the relentless criticism by naysayers, changed the lives of millions of ordinary people who now rejoice in the gift of their own child. He leaves the world a much better place.'

Peter Braude (Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King's College London)

'What was immediately apparent on meeting Robert Edwards was the empathy that he had for those with fertility problems. It's not easy to understand how devastating infertility can be, unless you have had difficulty conceiving yourself. Although he was in his early 80s when I met him, he was still passionate about helping infertile couples to have families of their own.'

Kate Brian (journalist and author of books about fertility)

'It was really sad to hear the news. I have always regarded Robert Edwards as like a grandfather to me. His work, along with that of Dr Patrick Steptoe, has brought happiness and joy to millions of people all over the world by enabling them to have children. I am glad that he lived long enough to be recognised with a Nobel Prize for his work, and his legacy will live on with all the IVF work being carried out throughout the world. The thoughts of myself and my sister Natalie, who was also born through IVF, are with his family at this sad time.'

Louise Brown (the world's first IVF baby, whose conception was brought about by Professor Edwards and his colleagues)

'The International Consumer Support for Infertility Community has been saddened by news of the passing of IVF pioneer Robert Edwards, whose dedicated commitment has resulted in the birth of more than five million babies. His scientific achievements reflected his unwavering concern for those who suffered with infertility. He was our voice when we had none, and he gave us courage to speak for ourselves to critics of our choice of medical treatment, and to governments that would deny families affordable access to IVF. His enthusiasm for the miracles of IVF never flagged. A highlight of our links with Professor Edwards occurred when he participated in our event 'Celebrating Life: Speaking with Children about their Conception'. Children aged 7-15 spoke with him and to the international media, highlighting the success of IVF treatment and the need for it to be available to help others. We will miss his selfless commitment, often in the face of strong opposition, to demanding greater societal acceptance of infertility and its treatment. Without his relentless tenacity, millions of people worldwide would have been denied the chance to realise their dream of having a family. His example of focused determination, to make IVF available in spite of the obstacles, is a compelling legacy which we will try to emulate as we continue to strive for equity of access to assisted reproductive technology. It was a privilege to have known him. We send our condolences and gratitude to his family.'

Sandra Dill and Dr Petra Thorn (Coordinators of International Consumer Support for Infertility)

'Bob. A great mentor, friend, and a true pioneer, battling against all - you knew you could change infertility treatment when those all around were against you. Few will ever understand how hard it was to see his vision realised. The Nobel Prize was a fitting tribute to his work, but the millions of children born from IVF are his lasting legacy.'

Professor Simon Fishel (Managing Director of CARE Fertility and Founder of the Rachel Foundation)

'When attempting to solicit more appropriate recognition for Bob Edwards from people of authority in UK science, I was all too often confronted with the unhelpful response that he was "controversial". This made me wish to grab their collar and shake them, for not having the wit to appreciate that no one who achieved what he had in the climate that then prevailed could possibly have been otherwise.'

Sir Richard Gardner (Emeritus Professor in the University of York's Department of Biology, and one of Professor Edwards' first graduate students)

'Bob will be remembered, as many great scientists are, for his "eureka" moment of 1978. In many ways however, this moment of fame obscures what was a lifetime of outstanding work in developmental biology, both before and after his work to deliver the world's first test tube baby.'

Darren Griffin (Professor of Genetics at the University of Kent)

'All of us in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine mourn the passing of Professor Sir Robert Edwards. He was a great scientist, whose stellar scientific work advanced our understanding of human reproduction and human embryonic stem cells, advanced preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and revolutionised the treatment of infertility. We extend our condolences to his family, and to his many friends around the world.'

Professor Linda Giudice (President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine)

'Robert Edwards is a person who unequivocally bequeathed immense good to the world, in the form of five million human beings who wouldn't otherwise be here.'

Timandra Harkness (science communicator and comedian)

'We should mark the extraordinary contribution made by Professor Sir Robert Edwards, the Nobel Prize winning doctor who pioneered modern IVF treatment. One in seven couples in this country experience fertility problems - he has given them hope and, in many cases, wonderful happiness. The whole House of Commons will want to applaud not just his scientific boldness, but his moral courage in confronting what was considered at the time to be an extremely difficult ethical issue.'

Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health at the UK Government)

'It is with great sadness that we have heard about the death of Professor Sir Robert Edwards. Many thousands of families have benefited directly from IVF since the birth of Louise Brown in 1978. However, fertility treatment was not always as readily accepted as it is today and had it not been for Bob's scientific innovation and his passionate commitment to ensuring the technology was made available to all those who needed it, many parents would have been left childless. Few scientists can say that their work has impacted on mankind in such a meaningful way. He was an exceptional man whose compassion and tenacity will be dearly missed.'

Professor Lisa Jardine (Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority)

'It is rewarding to be reminded of a time when science-based joy broke the bounds of prejudice. It is good to remember Robert Edwards, a scientist who just wanted to help. The result has been five million babies worldwide, and a whole lot of happiness.'

Simon Jenkins (journalist and author)

'I was sad to hear of the death of Professor Edwards, a man who devoted his life and career to IVF research. I and many others owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid for counteracting the view that the inability to conceive children naturally is something that should just be accepted. His world-class research opened doors that some never thought possible, and his outstanding, British-led contribution to this field of science must never be forgotten.'

Gareth Johnson MP (Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Infertility)

'Robert Geoffrey Edwards - or Bob, as his colleagues and friends knew him - is one of the true giants of the 20th century. A modest, affable, argumentative and generous Yorkshireman, the farsightedness, energy, determination and rigour he brought to the study of human reproduction led to the most significant advance in the history of infertility treatment, for which in 2010 he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. As well as being an experimentalist and keeping abreast of the scientific literature in such diverse fields as immunology, embryology, genetics and endocrinology, he was also a prolific writer and a pioneering promoter of the public awareness of science and of its role in overcoming infertility and genetic disease, both sources of much human anguish. Early and continuing ethical challenges to his work also prompted Bob to think and publish widely about reproductive bioethics, a subject of which he is truly a father figure. Bob also drove the foundation of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology and its journals, which he edited for many years. In 2000 he set up a new e-journal, Reproductive BioMedicine Online, with an emphasis on rapid publication and the airing of controversies. His almost inexhaustible energy, combined with a passionate belief in humanity, socialism and the commonsense of people, meant he also found time to engage in local politics. Indeed, I am sure that it is a source of gentle pleasure for him that he outlived Margaret Thatcher – born in the same year – by 48 hours!'

Martin Johnson (Professor Of Reproductive Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and one of Professor Edwards' first graduate students)

'Infertility Network UK was extremely saddened to hear the news that Professor Sir Robert Edwards had passed away peacefully in his sleep. His pioneering work with the late Dr Patrick Steptoe has quite literally helped millions of people to have children, bringing joy and happiness to their parents. I had the honour and pleasure of meeting him on several occasions, and he was always so kind, caring and sincere. He truly cared about the people he was helping. Some people may remember that Infertility Network UK used to host National Infertility Day, and Robert was kind enough to agree to be Patron of this event. He attended both the first event and the last one, where he presented a history of IVF and of his work alongside his colleague Dr Mike Macnamee. It was an extremely special moment for everyone there, and one that I will never forget. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to Robert's family, friends and colleagues.'

Clare Lewis-Jones (Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK and Chair of Fertility Europe)

'Few scientists can have contributed so much to the sum of human happiness as Bob Edwards, whose pioneering work with Patrick Steptoe has allowed millions of couples affected by infertility to start families. British science continues to build today on the world leadership in reproductive technology which he established, through research such as Newcastle University's IVF techniques for preventing transmission of mitochondrial disease.'

Dr David Lynn (Director of Policy at the Wellcome Trust)

'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. He is held in great affection by everyone who worked with him and was treated by him. For me personally, Bob was a great mentor, colleague and friend. It was a privilege to work with him, and his passing is a great loss to us all.'

Dr Mike Macnamee (Chief Executive of Bourn Hall Clinic, the world's first IVF clinic, which was cofounded by Professor Edwards))

'In the early days, Bob Edwards talked of freezing embryos, blastocyst culture, preimplantation genetic diagnosis and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, long before people thought these scientific techniques could be a reality. When I first met Bob in 1983, I was impressed with his passion and enthusiasm for IVF. I also remember his insistence that every member of the team had to maintain his high standards in our clinical and scientific work, and we uphold this ethos now.'

Dr Thomas Mathews (Medical Director of Bourn Hall Clinic)

'We were greatly saddened to hear of Professor Sir Robert Edwards' death, and yet glad that he lived to see his work receive long overdue recognition, in the form of his 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Bob Edwards made an outstanding contribution to assisted conception, working with Dr Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy to pioneer IVF techniques which resulted in the birth of Louise Brown and led to more than five million IVF babies being born worldwide. Those who owe the existence of their children to or indeed were born thanks to IVF will mourn Bob's passing.'

Sarah Norcross (Director of the Progress Educational Trust)

'Our thoughts are with Bob Edwards' family and friends, as well as our many colleagues who worked with him over the years. He was a giant in our profession, and many people - public and professionals alike - owe him a great deal. His work transformed our view of infertility from something that must be endured to a potentially treatable medical condition. He will be greatly missed, and his contribution to humankind is unmeasurable. Ultimately Bob's work was recognised internationally, and he received an Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 2001, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2010, and a knighthood in 2011. It is heartening to know that he received due acclaim for his work during his lifetime. The British Fertility Society considers his legacy to match that of Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Albert Einstein in their respective fields, and hopes his memory will live on for many years to come.'

Dr Allan Pacey (Chair of the British Fertility Society)

'Without the vision, dedication, and determination of this amazing and lovely man, Professor Sir Robert Edwards, I may never had had the chance to become a mother. Together with his colleagues Dr Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy, he never gave up, in spite of all the opposition which came his way. Thanks to him, I have the most wonderful son. Without him, my life and that of millions of others would have been much emptier. There are no words to express how grateful I am to him, and his memory will live on in the millions of children his work helped to create.'

Susan Seenan (Deputy Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK)

'The International Federation of Fertility Societies mourns the death of Nobel laureate Professor Sir Robert Edwards, who with Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy produced the world's first IVF baby, and contributed to reproductive biology in numerous other ways. His success in IVF was one of the twentieth century's great medical feats, pursued at long odds and despite great opprobrium. He laid the groundwork for infertile couples worldwide to have children, with 1-4 percent of all babies in Europe, North America and Australia now born by assisted reproductive technologies started by Professor Edwards. He will be greatly missed.'

Professor Joe Leigh Simpson (President of the International Federation of Fertility Societies)

'Professor Sir Robert Edwards was a true medical pioneer, who has changed both medical science and society. I work outside the main field of reproduction, but have a major interest in preventing transmission of genetic disease. I see patients in my clinics all the time, and the IVF techniques that Robert Edwards developed not only give infertile couples the opportunity to have children, but also give those who carry certain genetic diseases the opportunity to have healthy children. What greater achievement can there be than that?'

Doug Turnbull (Professor of Neurology at Newcastle University)

'Bob was a tireless and inspirational leader in reproductive medicine, and it's fair to say that the infertility treatments we have today would not have been developed without his direction. It was also Bob who laid down the statutes which govern the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's organisation and define its constitution today. We will remember him for many reasons, but mostly for his sympathetic ear, his constant encouragement, and of course his remarkable achievements in human biology. Without Bob's scientific foresight and care for the infertile couple, the treatments of assisted reproduction would never have gained the universal acceptance they have today.'

Dr Anna Veiga (Chair of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology)

'The British Infertility Counselling Association was saddened to hear of the death of Professor Sir Robert Edwards, whose pioneering work transformed the way that infertility is treated. His empathy, caring attitude and tireless dedication are part of his legacy, and he has been an inspiration to those working in all areas of the fertility field. We would like to offer our condolences on behalf of all of our members.'

Ruth Wilde (Chair of the British Infertility Counselling Association)

'It is thanks to this amazing man, Robert Edwards, that I have two beautiful, funny and wonderful little boys. This is a person that many many people across the world, myself included, will mourn and give thanks to.'

Richard Woolven (Trustee of the National Gamete Donation Trust)

17 June 2019 - by Martha Henriques 
An Oldham councillor is urging for Jean Purdy, one of the three people who developed IVF, to be formally acknowledged for her work, after letters revealed how the Oldham Health Authority ignored requests for Purdy to be recognised in the 1980s...
28 January 2019 - by Sarah Norcross 
The Progress Educational Trust event '40 Years of IVF: Past, Present and Future' promised to be a special one, organised as it was to mark the 40th birthday of the world's first IVF baby boy Alastair MacDonald, and it didn't disappoint...
18 June 2018 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
What links the world's first IVF baby, Louise Brown, and a self-made American millionairess...
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