Professor Robert G. Edwards of the University of Cambridge has long been recognized as one of the pioneers of reproductive medicine. His most famous accomplishment, along with surgeon Patrick Steptoe*, came in 1978 with the birth of Louise Joy Brown, the first baby born through in-vitro fertilization. This achievement has now been recognized by the Nobel Assembly who awarded him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2010 for “the development of in vitro fertilization”.
As Dario discussed in an article for this blog a few months ago the development of IVF by Bob Edwards depended on basic and applied research undertaken in rabbits and hamsters by pioneers including Gregory Pincus and Min Chueh Chang, who identified the essential conditions required for IVF.
In advanced information accompanying today’s announcement the Nobel Assembly notes the importance of this research in laying the foundations for the development of human IVF by Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, and also discusses how Bob Edwards’ own extensive research on the reproductive biology of mice – and animal research he and his colleagues conducted in a variety of species while working on IVF – aided progress. In particular the Nobel Assembly highlights how his experience with mice in enabled Bob Edwards to solve a critical problem that was preventing successful IVF, by developing a way to harvest human egg cells at the optimal stage of their maturation prior to in vitro fertilization.
Without the decades of careful animal research undertaken by Bob Edwards, Gregory Pincus, Min Chueh Chang, and scores of their colleagues it is unlikely that IVF would ever have become a reality.
We heartily congratulate Professor Edwards on his Nobel Prize, an award that recognizes his outstanding contribution to a medical advance that has brought joy to hundreds of thousands of families around the world.
* Sadly Patrick Steptoe died in 1988 and therefore could not share the Nobel Prize with Robert Edwards.