IVF pioneer earns Nobel

Robert Geoffrey Edwards has this year's prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing the technique of in vitro fertilization

By | October 4, 2010

Robert Geoffrey Edwards, who developed in vitro fertilization (IVF) in humans, will receive this year's linkurl:Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.;http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2010/index.html
Human oocyte
Image:wikimedia commons/Ekem
The initially controversial technology has since produced more than 4 million babies worldwide to otherwise infertile parents. "This is a technique that has brought the joy of parenthood to millions of couples and thoroughly deserves to be acknowledged as a major scientific discovery with a great impact on human lives," linkurl:William Colledge,;http://www.pdn.cam.ac.uk/groups/colledgelab/index.html reproductive physiologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK, said in an email to The Scientist. "The prize will inevitably be a somewhat positive signal to the embryonic stem cell field," Xiangru Xu, a molecular biologist at Yale University, said in an email to The Scientist. Like stem cell research (ESC), he added, IVF was initially very controversial, but unlike ESC, it's now receiving the highest recognition possible. However, Prize committee secretary Goran Hansson told reporters that Edwards' award was not meant to signal support for ESC research. The committee members also denied a leak to the media, despite a number of Swedish papers correctly guessing Edwards as the laureate for Physiology or Medicine, before their announcement. When Edwards, now professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, started his research on infertility in the 1950s, scientists had already successfully fertilized eggs from rabbits in test tubes and produced young. It didn't take much time for Edwards to realize that fertilization outside of the uterus could be a viable option for human couples who were having issues conceiving. While on the road to developing IVF, Edwards made myriad discoveries that have contributed to researchers' understanding of the maturation of the human egg cell. For example, he deciphered how different hormones control the development of the egg, as well as when the egg is most receptive to fertilization. Finally, in 1969, all the hard work paid off when Edwards, for the first time in history, fertilized a human egg cell in a test tube. But the road to successfully producing a live, healthy baby in vitro was unpaved and rocky. Initially, the fertilized egg couldn't make it past single cell division. One possible flaw, Edwards guessed, was that the eggs needed to mature inside the ovaries and then subsequently be removed for IVF. Safe ways to accomplish this task, however, remained unknown at the time. With the help of Patrick Steptoe, once a gynecologist and medical researcher at Royal Oldham Hospital in the UK (now deceased), Edwards was able to fertilize eggs that developed into early embryos. Shortly after this advancement, however, the Medical Research Council cut funding on the project, citing ethical concerns about the technique. The MRC wasn't alone--Edwards received a great deal of criticism concerning the ethics behind his research from religious leaders and scientists alike. However, a private donation kept his research afloat. On July 25th 1978, years of research paid off when Louise Brown, daughter of Leslie and John Brown, was delivered by Caesarian section after a normal nine-month pregnancy. Today, over 4 million babies have been born using IVF therapy worldwide. The therapy has also improved significantly over the years. For example, individual sperm can now be inserted straight into the egg on a petri dish, side-stepping many causes of male infertility. Edwards, 85, was apparently in poor health when the committee contacted him this morning (October 4), but his wife received the news, and said she was "delighted," Hansson told reporters. "As one of Edwards' first research students I'm naturally delighted that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize," said linkurl:Martin Johnson,;http://www.pdn.cam.ac.uk/staff/johnson/ professor of reproductive sciences at the University of Cambridge. "He [is] a man much ahead of his time not just in IVF, but in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, the derivation of embryonic stem cells and also for his publications and lectures on ethics in science." linkurl:Bill Harris,;http://www.pdn.cam.ac.uk/staff/harris/index.html developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge, said he's "delighted that Bob Edwards won the Nobel Prize for his brave and historical work. It was done in research climate that was not tremendously supportive at the time. This is a brilliant example of how basic research, in this case into the biological basis of fertilization, can rapidly have an enormous positive impact on medicine and society."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:In vitro fertilization earns Nobel;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57733/
[4th October 2010]*linkurl:NIH, stem cells: IVF ok, not SCNT;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55623/
[17th April 2009]*linkurl:Fertility Practices Meet Ethics Around the World;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14770/
[21st June 2004]


Avatar of: Mike Waldrep

Mike Waldrep

Posts: 155

October 4, 2010

Interesting! I hope that everyone has a great week!
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

October 4, 2010

While a scientifically exciting technique, I cannot help but point out the irony of giving a peace prize to a man who has created what is perhaps the epitome of human vanity and selfishness, in the face of the countless numbers of starving children that already exist in the world. Listen to your genes, and save a life instead of creating a new one.
Avatar of: Shi Liu

Shi Liu

Posts: 32

October 4, 2010

I am extremely delighted to see that Prof. Edwards finally get this highest honer in science that he truly deserves. I thank Nobel Assembly for making a very correct selection and adhering to the original spirit of Nobel.\nAt the same time I wish to point out that the awarding of this Nobel Prize to a pioneer in IVF research is NOT a blessing to some current stem cell researches such as the iPS research. As I have stated repeatedly in the past three years, iPSCs are NOT induced pluripotent stem cells that are "indistinguishable" from embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and "safe" for regenerative medicine. This is because, based on MY DISCOVERY (performing a Google search for "Shi V. Liu and iPS" to find some of my publications in this area that are not found in the mainstream journals) , iPSCs are Incorrectly Programmed Stem Cells (still abbreviated as iPSCs) or, in other words, man-made Cancer Stem Cells (mmCSCs). For this and many other reasons I have written to Nobel Assembly three times in the past three years to make such a consistent plea: No Nobel Prize for iPS researchers.\nMy penetrating view on the true nature of iPSCs and iPS reprogramming is based on my pioneering discoveries on the true nature of bacterial/cell life made two decades ago but still intentionally neglected by the mainstream (performing a Google search for " Shi V. Liu and Cell life" to find my truly pioneering ground-breaking studies in this fundamental area of life science). However, I am confident that, within a few years, life science will end a dichotomy between (macro)biology and microbiology when the cell "division"-based mistaken view on cell life is replaced with cell reproduction-based correct view of cell life. By that time, the dogmatic view of "one mother cell divided into two daughter cells" will be thrown into a trash can. "Self-renewal" of stem cells will be recognized a total misunderstanding as one should see that the same stem cells remained after they give birth to one or more daughter cells that are similar or very much differentiated from them. At last, people would realize that, in this material world, there is no life that is intrinsically immortal because aging is a intrinsic property of all materials, organic or not.
Avatar of: Ting Wang

Ting Wang

Posts: 15

October 4, 2010

Prof. Edwards has brought great happiness to numerous families, of course people can not forget him. He deserves the laureate.
Avatar of: Celia Berrell

Celia Berrell

Posts: 2

October 4, 2010

IVF has brought enrichment and fulfilment to a fortunate number of people. I imagine these parents would be especially caring of their children, having made additional sacrifices to attain parenthood. Maybe the world would be a more peaceful place if less children were abused or neglected by their parents and society. Congratulations Professor Edwards on your Nobel Prize for bringing more love into our world.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 34

October 4, 2010

Congratulations to Dr.Edwards for the Nobel.\nI do not know the developments at that time but I cannot help in thinking that this Nobel is for technique. \nThe only two exceptions of this -to the best of my knowledge- is one for Radio-immunoassay which helped to revolutionize the entire field of endocrinology and the second for PCR the technique very helpful in solving many problems in biology.\n\nWhereas the IVF is just the mimicking the nature. although this is done with persistence and hard work still I feel that this Noble is anticlimax.\n\nIn science it is not customary to criticise or express the harsh opinion, when the speaker presents the bad research we keep quiet and end it with light applaud, being harsh may look bad from PR point of view!\n\nI can also understand the frustration of the Nobel search committee that they have to go to the ancient archives and fish out the Nobel winning work -this shows that the biological research is not in good shape currently and it is in badly need of overhauling. \nIt is high time that the science is brought out of the clutches of grant writing, publication pressure, impact factor etc some of the most debilitating to the original ideas. \n\n\n\n
Avatar of: Paul Browne

Paul Browne

Posts: 11

October 5, 2010

I think that the previous anonymous poster is being far to harsh. If you look through the recent Nobel Prizes you will find several that have been awarded within 20 years of the discovery that they honour. \n\nWhile I don't always agree with the Nobel Assembly's decisions - the failure to include Robert Gallo among the Laureates in 2008 - but I believe that the Nobel Assembly is right to wait to see what the broader impact of a discovery on science and medicine is before awarding this prize. For example I expect that Shinya Yamanaka will win the prize in the fullness of time, but iPS is still a new technology and its future impact still uncertain. \n\nOne problem with more recent advances is that they often involve contributions from a large number of scientists, and it's often hard to say who should get the prize. Gene therapy is starting to make waves in the clinic, but I've no idea who I'd suggest for the Nobel Prize if they ever decide to award one for it.\n\nI also don't see a problem with the Nobel Assembly honouring scientists who they missed earlier. The 2000 award to Arvid Carrlson for his work on dopamine and other neurotransmitters should perhaps have been given two decades earlier, but was welcome nonetheless.\n\nThe real pity of this years award is that two scientists who should have shared it, Patrick Steptoe and Min Chueh Chang, did not live long enough to share the prize with Bob Edwards.\n\nThis does not take away from the achievement of Bob Edwards, afterall his own basic research did itself make a significant contribution to his "applied" success in applying IVF techniques to humans.\n\nhttp://speakingofresearch.com/2010/10/04/bob-edwards-wins-2010-nobel-prize-for-developing-ivf-thank-the-mice-rabbits-hamsters/

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