Robert Edwards honored as a Nobel laureate

Anne Buboltz, October 4th, 2010 | Filed under
  • Image of Alfred Nobel, creator of the Nobel Prizes
    Image is coutsey of WikiMedia Commons

Today, Robert G. Edwards, a British physiologist who spent much of his career at Cambridge University, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing in vitro fertilization (IVF), a technique used to help people conceive children. The procedure involves mixing eggs and sperm in a laboratory dish, and then returning the embryo to the womb to resume development.

Robert Edwards led the research and development of IVF ⎯ all the way from discovering fundamental principles underlying human fertilization to making IVF a successful medical therapy. Edwards first saw the usefulness of IVF for treating infertility in the 1950s, and spent years uncovering how eggs mature and how eggs and sperm could unite outside the body.

Edwards shifted IVF from the laboratory to the clinic by collaborating with Patrick Steptoe. Using eggs that Steptoe extracted from women, Edwards fertilized the eggs with sperm in the laboratory. The eggs were then returned to a women's uterus to establish a successful pregnancy. In 1978, the use of IVF as a clinical procedure culminated with the birth of the first IVF conceived child, Louise Brown.

Two years later, Edwards and Steptoe established the Bourn Hall Clinic ⎯ the world’s first in vitro fertilization center ⎯ where the methods of IVF were refined, resulting in nearly 1000 IVF births at the center by 1986. While the initial success of IVF was marked by the arrival of one child, the prolonged success of IVF is strongly demonstrated by the approximately four million individuals who have all born thanks to IVF.

The Nobel Prizes are annual awards given in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economic Sciences. As requested by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist who established the prizes, these awards are given to those whose work has conferred the “greatest benefit on mankind.” Since these prizes are the most prestigious awards given in each field, the nominees are kept top secret. However, that doesn’t keep the worldwide community from guessing. For fun, you can browse previous years' predictions from Thomson Reuters  ⎯ you may even spot some rumors about a Broad researcher in the forum.

Want to learn more?
To learn more about the Nobel Prize and its noble history, visit the Nobel Prize website, which is also where you can also find out more about the work of Robert G. Edwards. When you’re there, check out when the other 2010 Nobel Prizes will be awarded this week!