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IVF pioneer wins medicine Nobel prize

Reporting | - Posted: Oct 4, 2010 | Last Updated: 10 years ago
Posted: Oct 4, 2010 | Last Updated: 10 years ago
IVF pioneer wins medicine Nobel prize

STOCKHOLM: British physiologist Robert Edwards, whose work led to the first “test tube baby”, won the 2010 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology, the prize-awarding institute said on Monday.

Sweden's Karolinska Institute lauded Edwards, 85, for bringing joy to infertile people all over the world.

Known as the father of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), Edwards picked up the prize of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million) for what the institute called a “milestone in the development of modern medicine”.

As many as 4 million babies have been born since the first IVF baby in 1978 as a result of the techniques Edwards developed, together with a now-deceased colleague, Patrick Steptoe, the institute said in a statement.

The pair soldiered on despite opposition from churches, governments and many in the media, as well as scepticism from scientific colleagues. They also had trouble raising money for their work, and had to rely on privately donated funds.

“His 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,” the institute said.


In 1968, Edwards and Steptoe, a gynecologist, developed methods to fertilise human eggs outside the body.

Working at Cambridge University, they began replacing embryos into infertile mothers in 1972. But several pregnancies spontaneously aborted due to what they later discovered were flawed hormone treatments.

In 1977, they tried a new procedure which did not involve hormone treatments and relied instead on precise timing. On July 25 of the next year, Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, was born.

The birth of Louise was a media sensation as it raised questions about medical ethics, drew religious concerns and piqued basic human curiosity.

Many wondered whether an IVF baby would grow up normally.

“Long-term follow-up studies have shown that IVF children are as healthy as other children,” Karolinska said.

Edwards and Steptoe founded the first IVF clinic at Cambridge in 1980. Soon after, thousands of IVF babies were being born in Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

“The most important thing in life is having a child,” Edwards has been quoted by his clinic as saying: “Nothing is more special than a child.”

Steptoe died in 1988. Edwards, who is ill, was not available to speak to the media.

“Unfortunately, Professor Edwards is not in good health at this time,” Nobel committee member Goran Hansson told a news conference. “I spoke to his wife, and she was delighted. She was sure he would also be delighted.”

Although he has mostly been out of the limelight in recent years, Edwards won the Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in


IVF procedures are now commonplace. As much as 1-2 percent of babies in the western world are now conceived through IVF methods, said committe member Christer Hoog, a professor of cell biology.

Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. AGENCIES

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