IVF Pioneer Wins Nobel Prize

Robert Edwards, PhD, Awarded 2010 Nobel Prize for Development of in Vitro Fertilization

Medically Reviewed by Roger Henderson, MD on October 04, 2010
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Oct. 4, 2010 -- British scientist Robert Edwards, PhD, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the development of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The Nobel citation says his achievements have made it possible to treat a medical condition affecting more than 10% of all couples worldwide.

IVF Vision

Edwards had the vision that IVF could be useful as a treatment for infertility in the 1950s.

He went on to discover important principles for human fertilization and succeeded in achieving "test tube babies" -- babies conceived by combining a sperm and an egg in a lab rather than in the womb.

On July 25, 1978, the world's first "test tube baby," Louise Brown, was born. Since then, about 4 million babies have been born following IVF.

Louise Brown says in a statement: “It’s fantastic news, me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF has been given the recognition he deserves. We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations to him and his family at this time.”

Edwards and his colleagues refined IVF technology and shared it with colleagues around the world. He led the process all the way from the fundamental discoveries to the current, successful, IVF therapy, and his contributions represent a milestone in the development of modern medicine, the Nobel committee says.

IVF Today

The Nobel committee says IVF is a safe and effective therapy. Twenty percent to 30% of eggs fertilized via IVF lead to the birth of a child.

Complications include premature births but are very rare, particularly when only one egg is implanted.

Long-term studies have shown that IVF children are as healthy as other children.

Robert Edwards

Edwards was born in 1925 in Manchester, England. After military service in World War II, he studied biology at the University of Wales in Bangor and at Edinburgh University. He received his PhD in 1955 with a thesis on embryonic development in mice. He became a staff scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London in 1958 and initiated his research on the human fertilization process. From 1963, Edwards worked in Cambridge, first at its university and later at Bourn Hall Clinic, the world's first IVF center, which he founded with gynecologist Patrick Steptoe.

Edwards was its research director for many years, and he was also the editor of several leading scientific journals in the area of fertilization. Edwards is now professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge.


Martin Johnson, professor of reproductive sciences at the University of Cambridge, says the award is long overdue: "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 ... and the whole process of thinking ethically.”

The chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), Luca Gianaroli, MD, says in a statement: "Without Bob there would be no ESHRE and no Human Reproduction, and all of us working in reproductive medicine would be the poorer for that. There can be few embryologists or IVF specialists today whose career and expertise have not been shaped in some way by ESHRE's training and journals -- and this is something we all owe ultimately to Bob.

"This is a proud day for ESHRE, and just reward for Bob whose pioneering work, often in the face of huge opposition, has brought fulfilment to so many families."

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The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

News release, University of Cambridge.

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