Robert Edwards, father of 'test tube babies' wins Nobel Prize
Edwards won the prestigious prize for his work on in-vitro fertilization, which has helped millions of infertile couples to have a child.
Mon, Oct 04, 2010 at 07:55 AM
WINNER: An image of Robert Edwards of Britain is showed on the screen as Christer Hoog of the Karolinska Institute speaks in Stockholm on Oct. 4, 2010. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Britain's Robert Edwards, the "father of the test tube baby," won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine Monday for his work on in-vitro fertilization, a "milestone" in medicine, the Nobel jury said.
"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 Nobel Assembly at the Swedish Karolinska Institute said.
Edwards, 85, won the prestigious prize for his work on in-vitro fertilization, which has helped millions of infertile couples to have a child.
The IVF procedure entails taking an egg from a woman and fertilizing it in the lab-dish with sperm donated from a man.
The egg divides, is allowed to develop into an early-stage embryo and is then inserted in the woman's uterus where, if all goes well, it will become a baby.
Edwards began working on developing the process in the 1950s, first studying germ cells in animals.
"But already in the late 1950s, he realized that what he knew could be used to treat women," Nobel Committee member Christer Hoeoeg said in an interview broadcast on the award website.
"Already in the 1950s, he had a vision."
But the British physician and scientist had to wait until July 25, 1978, for success, with the birth of the world's first "test tube baby."
Louise Joy Brown was born at Oldham and District General Hospital in northwest England by Caesarean section, weighing five pounds 12 ounces.
Her parents, Lesley and John, had been trying to have children for nine years but could not because Lesley Brown's fallopian tubes were blocked.
At the time of her 30th birthday two years ago, Brown said she remained close to Edwards, saying "He's like a grandad to me."
Since Brown's birth, around 4 million people have been born through IVF.
Edwards could not be reached immediately Monday.
"He is not in good health, but I talked with his wife and she was thrilled," jury member Goeran Hansson told the TT news agency.
Edwards has in the past however described how controversial his work has been.
"I was called crazy," he told TT five years ago. "No one wanted to take the ethical risk. People told me the child would not be normal and wondered what I would do then. But I was never worried, my research had showed that IVF worked just like natural conception," he said.
Edwards worked closely with British gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988. Together they established the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, the world's first centre for IVF therapy.
After he won the prestigious Albert Lasker award in 2001, Edwards told U.S. broadcaster CBS he and Steptoe "never thought the embryos would be born abnormal, even though famous people, including Nobel Prize winners, told me that I would have to do infanticide on the babies."
Today, 20 to 30 percent of eggs fertilized by IVF lead to the birth of a child.
"Long-term follow-up studies have shown that IVF children are as healthy as other children," the Nobel jury said, pointing out that Louise Brown and a number of other IVF children have naturally given birth to children themselves.
"This is probably the best evidence for the safety and success of IVF therapy," the jury said.
Following Monday's announcement, Martin Johnson, a professor of reproductive sciences at the University of Cambridge, told AFP the Nobel "was far overdue."
"I'm surprised it was so late," he said, adding that Edwards had "brought obstetrics and gynaecology into the modern age."
The Medicine Prize kicked off a week of prestigious award announcements, with the two most watched, Literature and Peace, to be announced on Thursday and Friday.
The announcements of the Physics and Chemistry Prizes will be announced Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Economics Prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 11.
Copyright 2010 AFP European Edition