Robert Edwards, pioneer of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and brought to the world the first “test tube” baby Louise Brown in 1978 was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine this year.
What was controversial 30 years ago is now an established medical procedure. After Louise Brown, more than 4 million people worldwide were born via IVF. Imagine being instrumental in bringing to life this many people.
Current figures show that 1 in 10 couples have infertility problems.
According to Edwards:
“The most important thing in life is having a child. Nothing is more special than a child. Steptoe and I were deeply affected by the desperation felt by couples who so wanted to have children. We had a lot of critics but we fought like hell for our patients.”
Many colleagues and experts in the field believe that this honour for Edwards is long overdue. In fact, he founded the world’s first IVF centre, the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, together with English surgeon, Patrick Steptoe. Unfortunately, Steptoe cannot share the Nobel Prize with Edwards as he passed away in 1988. “The statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a prize cannot be awarded posthumously, unless the winner dies after the announcement of the prize itself.” Edwards himself is 85 years old and of failing health and may not enjoy his honor that long.
Indeed, IVF has changed human reproduction forever. It is currently estimated that worldwide, about 1 in every 10 couples have fertility problems. IVF enables them to procreate.
Nowadays, women as old as 70 could still bear children through IVF. The first “man to get pregnant” also did so via IVF.
However, despite being an established and widely practiced medical procedure, IVF remains controversial from an ethical and religious point of view, thus probably the reason of the delayed accolade.
Here are some quotes from family, friends and colleagues of Edwards about his Nobel Prize:
According to his wife Ruth:
“The success of this research has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide. His dedication and single-minded determination, despite opposition from many quarters, has led to the successful application of his pioneering research.”
Says Basil Tarlatzis of the International Federation of Fertility Societies
“This is a well deserved honour. IVF has opened new avenues of hope for millions of couples throughout the world. It has also had an immense impact on our understanding of medicine, leading directly to such developments as stem cell research, PGD, and many other fields. Edwards and Steptoe were real pioneers, and the award of the Nobel prize honours not just their work, but the whole field of reproductive science. After their breakthrough work, Robert went on to nurture the development of the assisted reproduction. No one deserves this award more, and we congratulate him on his award.”