Monday, October 4, 2010

Robert Edward wins 2010 Nobel prize in medicine

source : The Washington post

Robert Edward wins 2010 Nobel prize in medicine for in-vitro fertizilation

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010; 11:08 PM

Robert G. Edwards's breakthrough development of in vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first "test-tube baby," Louise Brown, in 1978, gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.

In the ensuing decades, the pioneering techniques that won the British biologist a Nobel Prize on Monday have played a part in controversial scientific advances such as cloning and the creation of human embryonic stem cells while redefining fundamental social roles such as what it means to be a parent or a family.

"The impact on society has been profound," said Lori B. Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, who studies reproductive technologies. "The creation of a child outside the body for the first time has had scientific and personal implications far, far beyond the 4 million children who have been born through in vitro fertilization."

IVF has been crucial for human embryonic stem cell research because the cells are obtained from embryos left over at infertility clinics. At the same time, the techniques helped lay the groundwork for the 1996 cloning of Dolly the sheep, a procedure that could eventually be tried in humans.

"In exploring the fundamental mechanisms of how human reproduction actually works, Edwards unleashed a social, ethical and cultural tsunami that he could not have predicted and I don't think anyone at the time could have anticipated," said Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. "It opened so many doors that I'm not sure we even fully appreciate it today."

Edwards, who began his work in the 1950s and persevered with gynecologist Patrick Steptoe despite fears it would produce monstrously deformed babies and other problems, was motivated primarily by the desire to help infertile couples. Although the procedure remains controversial and is opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and others, it has become widely accepted.

"His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition affecting a large proportion of humanity," the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden said in announcing the $1.5 million prize. "Today, IVF is an established therapy throughout the world."

The procedure involves taking an egg from a woman's ovaries, fertilizing it in a petri dish in the laboratory with sperm and placing the fertilized egg into a woman's womb to develop naturally. It is used to treat a host of fertility problems, including cases in which a woman's fallopian tubes are blocked, preventing the egg from being fertilized normally.

Edwards, now 85 and a professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, was too ill to give interviews about the award. In a statement released by Bourn Hall, the infertility clinic he founded, Edwards's wife, Ruth, said: "The family are thrilled and delighted. . . . The success of this research has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide. His dedication and single minded determination despite opposition from many quarters . . . has led to successful application of his pioneering research."

But IVF has forced society to reconsider many assumptions. Using IVF, a child today can have one "mother" who donated her genes, another who donated her womb and another who raised him or her, for example. Family members have supplied eggs, sperm and wombs to relatives, scrambling traditional relationships. The procedure has also helped fuel the debate over gay rights by enabling same-sex couples to have genetically related children.

"The implications are just staggering," Caplan said. "Even some of the arguments about gay marriage spin out from the fact that IVF lets gay people have children."

The procedure also furthered the trend that started with the birth control pill by giving women greater control over their reproductive lives, leading more to delay childbearing to pursue education and careers.

"In the 20th century, you could argue the two developments that shaped human behavior were the birth control pill and IVF," Caplan said.

At the same time, because women are paid to donate their eggs or offer their wombs to become surrogate mothers, worries have arisen that the pricey procedure has turned reproduction into a commodity.

"It has led to some concerns about the commercialization - making childbearing into a business," Andrews said. "You have couples creating embryos in the U.S. and implanting them in women in the Third World, for example."

The law has also had difficulty keeping up with the technology, resulting, for instance, in legal battles over the custody of embryos.

"This has led to reconsideration of men's role in reproduction," Andrews said. "Prior to this, all the choices had to do with women. But now that the embryo is outside of her body, you have to rethink what reproductive liberty means. Courts are moving toward giving men more rights."

Because infertility clinics are largely unregulated in the United States, critics say many often push ethical boundaries. For example, some enable couples to choose the sex of their children.

"I would argue that IVF technology opened a door to a kind of control over human lives. Upon reflection now three decades later, I think we're seeing the very dark consequences of this," said the Rev. Thomas Berg, director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, a Catholic bioethics think tank. "I think we're seeing the very questionable moral directions that this technology is taking us."

Another widely used procedure, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, enables doctors to test embryos for specific genes. The process is used primarily to spot devastating genetic disorders, increasing the chances that couples will give birth to healthy babies. But combined with the constant flow of discoveries of new genes, the procedure has led to concern about "designer babies," in which couples might try to choose a host of traits, including eye color, hair color, height and intelligence.

"In the 20th century, I would argue the biggest debate in America in terms of reproduction has been abortion," Caplan said. "I believe in the 21st century, Edwards's discoveries will make the issue of designing our descendants - that is, trying to create children who are stronger, faster, live longer, that sort of thing - that's going to become the biggest issue in the first half of the 21st century."

For her part, Brown, now 32, a mother of a son she conceived naturally, welcomed Edwards's victory. "It's fantastic news," she said in a statement released by Bourn Hall. "Me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF has been given the recognition he deserves."

IVF pioneer Edwards wins Nobel for MedicineTest-tube baby pioneer Robert Edwards of Britain has won this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine. The 85-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge started working on IVF in the 1950s

Robert Edwards

Robert Edwards
  • Born in 1925 in Manchester, England
  • After military service in the World War II, he studied biology at the University of Wales and Edinburgh University
  • Started his studies into IVF at the National Institute for Medical Research in London in 1958
  • From 1963, Edwards worked in Cambridge, first at its university and later at Bourn Hall Clinic
  • In 1978 his work came to fruition with the birth of the world's first test-tube baby ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first test tube baby celebrated her 30th birthday with Prof Edwards in 2008

Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer

A Vatican official has said the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to British IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is "completely out of order".

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the award ignored the ethical questions raised by the fertility treatment.

He said IVF had led to the destruction of large numbers of human embryos.

Nearly four million babies have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978.

Mr Carrasco, the Vatican's spokesman on bio-ethics, said in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) had been "a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction".

But he said the Nobel prize committee's choice of Prof Edwards had been "completely out of order" as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs "and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world", he told Italy's Ansa news agency.

"In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible."

In his statement, Mr Carrasco stressed that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

The Nobel medicine prize committee in Sweden said Prof Edwards' work had brought "joy to infertile people all over the world".

"His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10% of all couples worldwide," it said.

Prof Edwards efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s led to the birth of the world's first "test tube baby", Louise Brown, in July 1978.

Ms Brown said the award was "fantastic news".

"Me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF has been given the recognition he deserves," she said.

"We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations to him and his family at this time."

Source : BBC

British IVF pioneer Robert Edwards wins Nobel prize

British scientist Robert Edwards, the man who devised the fertility treatment IVF, has been awarded this year's Nobel prize for medicine.

His efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s led to the birth of the world's first "test tube baby" in July 1978.

Since then nearly four million babies have been born following IVF.

The prize committee said his achievements had made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition affecting 10% of all couples worldwide.

Fertility father

Prof Edwards, 85, began his fundamental research over 50 years ago.

He soon realised that fertilisation outside the body could represent a possible treatment of infertility.

Other scientists had shown that egg cells from rabbits could be fertilised in test tubes when sperm was added, giving rise to offspring.

Start Quote

Today, Robert Edwards' vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world”

End Quote The Nobel Assembly

Prof Edwards went on to refine this technique for humans together with Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988.

Their success means that today, the probability of an infertile couple taking home a baby after a cycle of IVF today is one in five, about the same that healthy couples have of conceiving naturally.

The pair faced numerous challenges in their quest, including opposition from churches and governments, as well as scepticism from scientific colleagues.

They also had trouble raising money for their work, and had to rely on privately donated funds.

But they went on to develop "a milestone of modern medicine", said the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, which awarded the prize.

Bringing hope to millions

"Today, Robert Edwards' vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world," the assembly said.

Prof Edwards, who is ill, was not available to speak to the media.

"Unfortunately, Prof Edwards is not in good health at this time," Nobel committee member Goran Hansson told a news conference.

"I spoke to his wife, and she was delighted. She was sure he would also be delighted."

The first IVF baby, Louise Brown, who is now 32, said: "Its 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 to him and his family at this time."

Professor Basil Tarlatzis, past-president of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, said: "This is a well deserved honour.

"IVF has opened new avenues of hope for millions of couples throughout the world.

"Edwards and Steptoe were real pioneers, and the award of the Nobel Prize honours not just their work, but the whole field of reproductive science.

"After their breakthrough work, Robert went on to nurture the development of the assisted reproduction.

"No-one deserves this award more, and we congratulate him."


The birth of IVF

Nearly four million babies have been born using IVF

It was in the late 1950s that British scientists Robert Edwards first came to realise the potential of IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) as a treatment for infertility.

The keen biologist knew from the work of others that it was possible to take an egg from an animal, like a mouse or a rabbit, and fertilise it with sperm in a test tube.

Armed with this knowledge, Edwards made it his mission to find out if the same could be done using human eggs.

Some 30 years later, his dream was realised with the birth of the world's first human test-tube baby in 1978.

Since then nearly four million babies have been born using the technology that takes a mature egg from a woman's ovary and mixes it with sperm in the lab before implanting it into the womb.

But the journey to get to where we are today was not just long, but incredibly difficult.

First came the problem of getting the basic science to work in humans.

Edwards struggled for years to find the ideal conditions to get his test-tube fertilisation to work.

In 1969, his efforts paid off when, for the first time, a human egg was fertilized in a test tube.

In spite of this success, a major problem remained.

The fertilised egg did not develop beyond a single cell division. Edwards suspected that eggs that had matured in the ovaries before they were removed for IVF would function better, and looked at how to harvest such eggs in a safe way.

He teamed up with gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and together they developed a technique that would, eventually, lead to the modern IVF used today.

But despite promising early studies, the pair hit another setback - a lack of financial backing to move their pioneering work on.

After being rejected funding from the Medical Research Council, the team were forced to find a private donation.

Creating a stir

Even with this secured, they faced another problem. Their research had become the topic of a lively ethical debate, with several religious leaders, ethicists, and scientists demanding that the project be stopped.

Start Quote

We had a lot of critics but we fought like hell for our patients”

End Quote Robert Edwards The "father" of IVF

Rather than shy away from the issue, Edwards tackled it head-on and created an ethics committee for IVF at the Bourn Hall Clinic he then set up with Steptoe in Cambridge.

Looking back at this time he said: "The most important thing in life is having a child.

"Nothing is more special than a child.

"Steptoe and I were deeply affected by the desperation felt by couples who so wanted to have children.

"We had a lot of critics but we fought like hell for our patients."

The pair got back to work and in the early 1970s they started to transfer their early IVF embryos back into women.

After more than 100 attempts that all led to short-lived pregnancies, they tweaked their design and in 1978, they offered their new treatment to a couple called Lesley and John Brown who came to the clinic after nine years of failed attempts to have a child.

Nine months later, a healthy baby, Louise Joy Brown, was born through Caesarian section after a full-term pregnancy, on 25 July, 1978.

IVF had moved from vision to reality and a new era in medicine had begun.

Fruits of labour

Edwards and Steptoe continued working together at their clinic - the world's first IVF centre - teaching other doctors how to carry out the procedure.

By 1986, 1,000 children had already been born following IVF at Bourn Hall, representing about half of all children born after IVF in the world at that time.

The pair worked together until Steptoe died in 1988. Edwards then continued as head of research until his retirement.

Their achievements attracted many other researchers to the field of fertility medicine which has led to rapid technical development.

IVF has now been joined by other revolutionary fertility treatments like intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which makes it possible to also to treat many categories of male infertility, and preimplantation genetic diagnostics (PGD), which helps reduce the risk that parents can pass a severe genetic disorder or a chromosomal abnormality to their children.

And today, 2-3% of all newborns in many countries are conceived with the help of IVF.

IVF treatment


30th birthday for first IVF baby

By Fergus Walsh
Medical correspondent, BBC News

Louise Brown was told about her "miracle" birth as a young child

It is 30 years since scientists held their breath as they waited for news of the world's first test tube baby. When Louise Brown was born - so was IVF treatment.

Today, more than three million babies have been born around the world thanks to the technology which was pioneered in Britain.

Louise's birth has been celebrated by IVF families and some of the clinical staff involved in the breakthrough.

The celebrations were held at Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Cambridgeshire - set up by the fertility pioneers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards - the team responsible for Louise's birth.

Families of 30 children - one from each year since 1978 - gathered to mark the event.

Louise's birth was one of the most remarkable medical breakthroughs of the 20th Century, and not surprisingly it generated worldwide media interest.

Media star

Louise says as a child in Bristol, she got used to all the media attention.

Louise Brown and her son Cameron
Louise Brown now has a son of her own

She was recognised in the street and got used to some strange questions.

She said: "When I was growing up they would ask things like how do you fit in a test tube and things like that!"

These days she rarely thinks about her iconic status as the first of more than three million IVF babies born worldwide.

"It's quite scary to think I'm the first of them all, but it's also a nice feeling that perhaps if I hadn't been born then all those people wouldn't be here, and IVF has helped so many couples."

Louise is now a mother herself, to 18 month old Cameron, although he was conceived naturally.

Patrick Steptoe died in 1988 but Professor Edwards joined the celebrations and helped Louise cut the cake.

Professor Edwards remembers how, once the news of the pregnancy leaked out, Louise's mother had to go into hiding.

"We were concerned that she would lose the baby, the fetus, because the press were chasing Mrs Brown all over Bristol where she lived.

"So secretly Patrick Steptoe hid the mother in his car and drove her to his mother's house in Lincoln - the press didn't know where she was."

Professor Bob Edwards
Professor Edwards was worried by the media interest

Louise's mother said that once she was in Oldham hospital reporters tried a variety of methods to sneak into her room from a bomb hoax to posing as cleaners.

Once Louise was born it made front-page headlines all over the world.

Mrs Brown went on to have another daughter by IVF and is delighted that Steptoe and Edwards helped her.

"I'm just so grateful that I'm a mum at all because without IVF I never would have been and I wouldn't have my grandchildren."


Since Louise Brown's birth IVF has become a routine procedure.

More than 30,000 women a year in Britain now undergo IVF and eleven thousand babies annually are born.

IVF was a British breakthrough, but the majority of treatment in the UK is still paid for privately and costs couples between £4,000 and £8,000 a time.

Professor Edwards is saddened that IVF is not more widely available on the NHS.

"Every couple should be allowed to have three babies on the health service because this is the greatest gift that you can give any man or woman."

Source : BBC


The Nobel Foundation has announced on Monday this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for medicine. Robert G. Edwards, famous for his “test tube baby” creation, was given the prestigious award. The awards committee had previously shortlisted the nominees and came down to Edwards on Monday at the Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute around 11:00 a.m.

Robert Geoffrey Edwards is a British physiologist who pioneered in the reproductive medicine. Edwards was born on September 27, 1925 in Leeds. As a teen, he attended the Manchester Central High School. Edwards then joined the British Army. Subsequently, he attended the University of Wales Bangor with a degree in agriculture. The 85 years old physiologist obtained his PhD in 1955 at the Institute of Animal Genetics, University of Edinburgh.

In 1963 Edwards joined the team of scientist at the University of Cambridge, where he spent the rest of his professional life. His initial success came in 1968, fertilizing a human egg in a laboratory. Soon, he began to collaborate with a gynecologic surgeon from Oldham named Patrick Steptoe.

July 25, 1978, the two made history with their “Test Tube Baby”. Their lifelong work on In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF) finally gave birth to baby Louise Joy Brown. The world’s first test tube baby arrived at 11:47 p.m. at the Oldham General Hospital.

In 2001, the Lasker Foundation bestowed the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award to Robert Edwards. He was commended for the development of in vitro fertilization, a medical advancement that has revolutionized the field of science particularly human fertilization. In 2007, The Daily Telegraph named Edwards the 26th greatest living geniuses out of the 100 in the list.

Edwards and Steptoe’s contribution is considered a ”miracle” by some people, especially for infertile couples. For spouses who once thought of having no chances producing a baby of their own , Edwards and Steptoe’s scientific breakthrough opens a new door for them. It was estimated that about 1.5 million babies have been born through IVF in 2004.

Last year, three researchers were named winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak, American researchers, shared the $1.4 million prize money. Their work revolves around chromosomes and their findings shed light on human aging and diseases, including cancer.

Started in 1895 from an idea by Swedish Chemist Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, the Nobel Prize is an annual international awards bestowed by the Nobel foundation to people who has made a difference in the field of natural science, literature, and social science. Each recipient or laureate receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money.

Last year’s winners were:

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz, and Ada Yonath for Chemistry.

Charles K. Kao for Physics

Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith for Physics.

Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson for the Prize in Economics. Ostrom was the first woman to receive the Economics Prize.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szostak for medicine.

Herta Muller for Literature.

US President Barack Obama for Peace Prize. He was awarded “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Source : World Correspondents

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