Years after helping with the creation of the first “test tube baby,” British biologist Robert G. Edwards received recognition at the 2010 Nobel Prize in physiology for medicine for his work in the development of techniques used for in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Edwards, now 85, began his work in the 1950s and is to thank for the lives of approximately four million people conceived using the in vitro method.
“His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility,” said the committee in Stockholm in its citation for choosing Edwards to receive the $1.5 million award. “Today, Robert Edwards’ vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world.”
The first baby to be successfully conceived in vitro in 1978, Louise Joy Brown, told reporters, “It’s fantastic news, me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF has been given the recognition he deserves. We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations,” she said.
Sadly, Patrick Steptoe, the gynecologist who partnered with Edwards in the creation of IVF, died in 1988 before receiving Nobel recognition.
“The only sadness is that Patrick Steptoe has not lived to see this day,” said William Ledger, head of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine at Sheffield University.
One of the reasons it has taken so many years for their methods to receive Nobel recognition may be due to the controversy surrounding the techniques used for IVF.
Elizabeth Heeg-Truesdell, PhD, the Assistant Professor of Biology at Northwestern, explained the IVF process. Eggs that are fertilized “in vitro,” meaning “in an artificial environment,” have been harvested from the mother and placed in a petri dish. Doctors then add the sperm from the father and watch for fertilization to occur and cells to begin the process of division called mitosis. After seeing that the embryo is viable, doctors implant it in the mother’s womb. Normal physiological processes kick in, and the rest of the pregnancy goes on naturally.
The controversy arises over embryos that are not implanted back into the mother and do not survive past the Petri dish.
“There is still that major concern of “Are we playing God?” said Truesdell.
Truesdell said she continues to wrestle with the moral questions surrounding IVF. She sees how losing embryos in labs can be seen in such a negative way, yet she feels that couples should have the chance to have one of those specially made “test tube babies.”
Whether or not it is morally right, there are about 300,000 babies born worldwide each year thanks to IVF, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. In 2009 about 1% of all infants born in the United States had been conceived through assisted reproductive technologies, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Bob Edwards certainly made a major impact on what we do every day, and the four million babies born as a result,” said Dr. James Goldfarb, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. See foxnews.com and cnn.com for more information.