In Vitro Fertilization Inventor Robert Edwards Earns Nobel Prize in Medicine

Robert Edwards in vitro

British medical expert Robert Edwards has just won the Nobel Prize for medicine of 2010 for his pioneering of in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques since the 1950s. Millions of lives–many of which begin identically–owe their existence to this man.

Eighty-five-year-old Edwards, together with his late colleague Patrick Steptoe, is largely responsible for the invention of extra-womb fertilization, where a human egg is implanted with sperm in the laboratory, before being implanted in the uterine lining where it would have naturally settled during normal fertilization. The invention earned the nickname “test tube babies,” but this huge over-simplification doesn’t reflect the astonishing advances Edwards and Steptoe made.

The Nobel Committee remarks how important the science is, because it impacts so many lives: not just the four million test-tube babies themselves born since the first–Louise Brown in July 1978–but the “large proportion of humanity including more than 10 percent of all couples worldwide who suffer the medical condition of infertility.” The Committee’s citations are particularly joyous–not necessarily an emotion you’d associate with a Nobel Prize–because they note that “Today, Robert Edwards’ vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world.” Since Edwards initial research, the technique has been polished and perfected and now has almost the same success rate–20%–as fertile couples enjoy.

This announcement is the first of the 2010 Nobel Prizes to be awarded.

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. KE