Edwards, pioneer of IVF, wins Nobel prize for medicine

THE PUNCH Newspaper

British physiologist, Mr. Robert Edwards, whose work led to the first “test-tube baby,” won the 2010 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology, the prize-awarding institute said on Monday.

Sweden‘s Karolinska Institute lauded Edwards, 85, for bringing joy to infertile people all over the world.

“Known as the father of invitro fertilisation, Edwards picked up the prize of 10m Swedish crowns ($1.5m) for a milestone in the development of modern medicine.

“As many as four million babies have been born since the first test-tube baby in 1978 as a result of the techniques Edwards developed, together with a now-deceased colleague, Patrick Steptoe,” the institute said.

The institute added that Edwards and Steptoe continued despite opposition from churches, governments and many in the media, as well as skepticism from scientific colleagues.

“His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity including more than 10 per cent of all couples worldwide,” the institute said in a statement.

In 1968, Edwards and Steptoe, a gynecologist, developed methods to fertilise human eggs outside the body.

Working at Cambridge University, they began replacing embryos into infertile mothers in 1972 but several pregnancies spontaneously aborted due to what they later discovered were flawed hormone treatments.

In 1977, they tried a new procedure which did not involve hormone treatments and relied instead on precise timing.

On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, was born.

Edwards and Steptoe founded the first IVF clinic at Cambridge in 1980 and soon after, thousands of test-tube babies were being born in Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

“The most important thing in life is having a child. Nothing is more special than a child,” Edwards has been quoted by his clinic as saying.

Edwards, whose publicist said he is now too ill to give interviews, has mostly been out of the limelight.

He won the Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 2001.

Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year.

Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman, Alfred Nobel.

Meanwhile, a professor of anatomy and reproductive endocrinology, Oladapo Ashiru, has described the declaration of Edwards as the Nobel Prize winner for medicine as a victory for specialists in the field of assisted reproductive technology.

Ashiru, who was one of the pioneers of IVF in Nigeria, said that the prize was a justification that in vitro fertilisation therapy was gaining a rapid evolution.

He said, “Today again history is being made as the two pioneers of IVF are given the

“Nobel Prize for medicine. I salute these two medical scientists for their great efforts. All of us in the field of assisted reproductive technology are very happy for this recognition which in a way gives credence to all our collective efforts in this area.”

Ashiru said that the recognition was a cause for celebration as it came while Edwards was still alive as other pioneers of assisted fertility innovations were getting older.

”I know Bob Edwards very well and when we last met in Atlanta at the 2009 conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine I said to him that with the rapid evolution of IVF technology the award of a Nobel prize for him and Patrick Steptoe is imminent. I am happy that the recognition in form of Nobel Prize came when he is still alive although Patrick Steptoe died some years back,” he added.

Also, the Chief Medical director of St. Ives Specialist IVF Fertility Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Tunde Okewale, said that although the award was an honour, it was quite late.

“It is coming a little late, but I congratulate Edwards and his team. What happened in 1978 was ground-breaking, the birth of the first test-tube baby was a landmark event and it changed the practice of reproductive medicine,” Okewale said.

He noted that the Nobel Prize would help in removing the social stigma often associated with IVF babies globally.

Okewale added that it would increase Nigerians awareness on the efficacy and accessibility of IVF technology for infertile couples in the country.

“When IVF technology came, it was opposed by several people, religious bodies, some medical groups. People felt it was like playing God, but with this, more Nigerians will embrace this technology as an option in treating infertility,” he said.


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