British Pioneer Wins Nobel for In-Vitro Fertilization

Monday, 04 Oct 2010 06:50 AM


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A British physiologist and pioneer in reproductive medicine, Robert Edwards, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing in-vitro fertilization.

Edwards, 85, a former professor and researcher at the University of Cambridge in England, will get the 10 million- kronor ($1.5 million) prize, the Nobel Assembly said today in Stockholm. He won the Albert Lasker award for clinical medical research in 2001. His research partner, Patrick Steptoe, died in 1988.

Edwards, who along with Steptoe created the first test tube baby in 1978, conducted his reproductive research in the face of opposition from church and government. He has now left Cambridge, a spokesman for the university said. His health is frail and he isn’t available for interviews, said Rachel Holdsworth, a spokeswoman for Bourn Hall, the Cambridge clinic where Edwards and Steptoe first performed IVF.

“When Robert Edwards began his work in 1955, physicians could do little more for their infertile patients than squeeze a shoulder and cast a sympathetic look,” Evelyn Strauss, a biochemist and science journalist, wrote in the Lasker citation. He and Steptoe “marched staunchly forward against tremendous opposition. As a result of their efforts, almost 1 million babies have gazed and giggled at their parents.”

As a young researcher, Edwards began work on mice reproduction. He studied fertilized eggs collected from female mice, which tend to ovulate at night, according to the Lasker citation. After three years of midnight visits to the lab, he found a way to coax the animals to ovulate during daytime, according to the speech. He also developed a way to prod dormant eggs to mature outside the female’s body.

Ripened Eggs

Edwards began working on humans by persuading gynecologists to give him slices of human ovaries from women who underwent surgery. In 1969, he published a paper in which he described having achieved fertilization outside a woman’s body. He joined forces with Steptoe, who collected ripened eggs directly from women’s ovaries.

Edwards worked on fertilizing them in the lab. In 1972, they started trying to place the eggs in the womb of infertile women. On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first test tube baby, was born using the procedure developed by Edwards and Steptoe.

Last year’s Nobel prize in medicine went to Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco, Carol Greider from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School in Boston, for research on cell division.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. The Nobel Foundation was established in 1900 and the prizes were first handed out the following year.

An economics prize was created in 1969 in memory of Nobel by the Swedish central bank. Only the peace prize is awarded outside Sweden, by the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo.


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