IVF pioneer Sir Robert Edwards dies aged 87

We are saddened to learn that IVF pioneer Professor Sir Bob Edwards has died at the age of 87, following a long illness. The University of Cambridge announced his death earlier today, noting that through his work Professor Edwards had improved the lives of millions of people around the world. Speaking about his former colleague, Professor Martin Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Science at the University of Cambridge noted that Professor Bob was not only a scientific pioneer, but recognized the importance of explaining your research to the public:

Bob Edwards was a remarkable man who changed the lives of so many people. He was not only a visionary in his science but also in his communication to the wider public about matters scientific in which he was a great pioneer.”

Professor Sir Robert Edwards, Nobel Laureate and IVF pioneer
Professor Sir Robert Edwards, Nobel Laureate and IVF pioneer

With his colleague Dr Patrick Steptoe, Professor Edwards performed the first human in-vitro fertilization procedure, which resulted the birth of Louise Joy Brown in 1978.  35 years later more than 4 million children have been born through IVF around the world, and in 2010 Professor Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for the development of in vitro fertilization”. Unfortunately, as the University of Cambridge statement notes, Professor Edwards was already in poor health when the prize was announced.

The developments for which Edwards and Steptoe were responsible attracted much publicity, some of it, not least from the Vatican, highly critical.

Formal recognition therefore came late, but when it did come, it was decisive, with the award of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2010 ‘for the development of in vitro fertilization.”

For Professor Edwards the Nobel Prize came late, but for his colleague Dr. Steptoe, who had predeceased him in 1988, it came too late. Dr. Steptoe was not alone in this. When Professor Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 we published a blog post welcoming the award and discussing the key contribution of animal research to the development of IVF, noteing that Dr. Min Chueh Chang – whose studies in rodents and rabbits led directly to the techniques used by Professor Edwards and Dr. Steptoe – was also denied a share in the 2010 Nobel prize as he had died in 1991. Knowing this adds to the poignancy of a moment when we remember the achievements of some of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.

Today our thoughts are with Professor Edwards’ family, friends and colleagues, but we also remember those other scientists and surgeons who worked with him to usher in a revolution in medical care that has brought happiness to millions of people across the globe.

Speaking of Research

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