October 4, 2010 / 4:41 PM / 8 years ago

Factbox: Robert Edwards, winner of the Nobel prize for Medicine

(Reuters) - This year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, was awarded on Monday to British physiologist Robert Edwards, who helped revolutionize the treatment of human infertility,.

Here are some details on the winner:


— Robert Edwards began his work in 1955. By 1968 he was able to achieve fertilization of the human egg in the laboratory and started to collaborate with Patrick Steptoe. Edwards developed human culture media to allow the fertilization and early embryo culture, while Steptoe utilized laparoscopy to recover ovocytes from patients with tubal infertility.

— Edwards pioneered a field that has touched millions of lives, as infertility afflicts more than 3.5 percent of the world population.

— He and his colleague Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988, marched forward against tremendous opposition from churches, governments, and the media, as well as intense skepticism from scientific colleagues.

— As a result of their efforts, well over 4 million babies have been born to parents who otherwise would have failed to conceive children.

— The birth of Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby” in July 1978 heralded the beginning of a new field of medicine.

— Because medical practitioners can now inject a single sperm into an egg, infertile men as well as infertile women can have children. With this advance, called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), even men who harbor small numbers of sperm can father babies.

— Edwards’s work lay the groundwork for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Scientists can test whether an embryo carries an inherited disease before they deposit it in the mother.


— Robert Geoffrey Edwards was born in September 1925.

— After finishing Manchester Central High School, he served at the University College of North Wales (UCNW) in Bangor, but soon realized that he was interested not so much in plants but rather in animal reproduction and transferred to the Department of Zoology and received his B.Sc. in 1951 from UCNW; in 1962 the same institution offered him the degree of DSc.

— After working for a year at the California Institute of Technology, he got a five-year position at the National Institute for Medical Research in London.

— He then studied at the Institute of Animal Genetics, University of Edinburgh, and received his Ph.D. in 1955. In 1963 he joined Cambridge University.

— In 1968 he attended a lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine in London given by Patrick Steptoe, a gynecologist, describing laparoscopy, a surgical technique that could give access to the ovaries, enabling the retrieval of eggs in order to be fertilized in vitro. Their collaboration started in 1968 and 10 years later Louise Brown was born.

— Edwards co-founded one of the first IVF clinics in the world at Bourn Hall, Cambridge in 1980. That same year, one “test tube baby” was born in the United States. In 1990, the number rose to 4,000 in the U.S., and in 1998, it reached 28,500.

— In 2001 he was awarded the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award by the Lasker Foundation “for the development of in vitro fertilization.

Sources: Reuters/nobelprize.org/Lasker Foundation

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