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Test-tube baby pioneer wins 2010 Medicine Nobel

October 04, 2010 15:36 IST

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to Robert G Edwards "for the development of in vitro fertilisation".

Robert's 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.

As early as the 1950s, Edwards had the vision that IVF could be useful as a treatment for infertility.

He worked systematically to realize his goal, discovered important principles for human fertilisation, and succeeded in accomplishing fertilisation of human egg cells in test tubes (or more precisely, cell culture dishes).

Robert was born in 1925 in Manchester, England. After military service in the Second World War, he studied biology at the University of Wales in Bangor and at Edinburgh University in Scotland, where he received his PhD in 1955 with a Thesis on embryonal development in mice. He became a staff scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London in 1958 and initiated his research on the human fertilization process. 

His efforts were finally crowned by success on July 25, 1978, when the world's first "test tube baby" was born.

During the following years, Edwards and his co-workers refined IVF technology and shared it with colleagues around the world.

His contributions represent

a milestone in the development of modern medicine.

Today, IVF is an established therapy throughout the world. It has undergone several important improvements.

For example, single sperm can be microinjected directly into the egg cell in the culture dish. This method has improved the treatment of male infertility by IVF. Furthermore, mature eggs suitable for IVF can be identified by ultrasound and removed with a fine syringe rather than through the laparoscope.

IVF is a safe and effective therapy. 20-30 per cent of fertilised eggs lead to the birth of a child. Complications include premature births but are very rare, particularly when one egg only is inserted into the mother. Long-term follow-up studies have shown that IVF children are as healthy as other children.

Approximately four million individuals have been born thanks to IVF. Louise Brown and several other IVF children have given birth to children themselves; this is probably the best evidence for the safety and success of IVF therapy. Today, Robert Edwards' vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world.

Image: File photo shows the world's first 'test tube baby', Britain's Louise Brown listening as Professor Edwards (L) addresses the media during 25th anniversary celebrations of the revolutionary fertility treatment -- In Vitro Fertilization ( IVF) -- at Bourne Hall in Cambridgeshire July 26, 2003.

Photograph: Reuters