The British scientist who pioneered IVF treatment and gave millions the chance to start a family has been awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.
Robert Edwards’ groundbreaking research has helped with the conception of more than four million people since the birth of the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978.
The brilliant 85-year-old, who is an emeritus professor at Cambridge University, will receive a 10m Swedish kronor prize (£935,000) for his work – and join an esteemed group of previous winners.
One in 10 couples are infertile worldwide and, before Edwards’ research, doctors could do little to help these couples have children.
But the Manchester-born scientist’s work alongside the late English surgeon Patrick Steptoe has given families the opportunity to have children when they wouldn’t normally have been able to.
It took almost two decades of study of the life cycle of human eggs before Edwards and his colleagues, in 1969, were able to successfully fertilise them outside the human body.
Working with Steptoe, Edwards removed eggs from ovaries, put them in culture and then added sperm.
Nearly ten years later, Lesley and John Brown approached Edwards and Steptoe following years of trying for a child. The scientists carried out the IVF technique on one of Mrs Brown’s eggs and then re-implanted it after it had become an embryo consisting of eight cells.
Louise Brown (pictured, above with Edwards) was born in Bristol by caesarean section after a full-term pregnancy in 1978.
Christer Höög, professor of cell biology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and a member of the Nobel Assembly said: “By a brilliant combination of basic and applied medical research, Edwards overcame one technical hurdle after another in his persistence to discover a method that would help to alleviate infertility.”
The announcement has been greeted with joy from various organisations.
Basil Tarlatzis of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, said: “IVF has opened new avenues of hope for millions of couples throughout the world.
“No one deserves this more, and we congratulate him on his award.”
Prof Martin Johnson, Professor of Reproductive Sciences at the University of Cambridge, said:
“As one of Bob’s first research students, I’m naturally delighted that Bob Edwards has been awarded the Nobel Prize. Better late than never!
“Bob is delighted, as are all his friends, family, and work colleagues at the journal office of Reproductive BioMedicine Online. The Nobel Prize is the last major award, following on from the Lasker Prize that he won about ten years ago, that enables Bob to achieve his proper recognition.
“He is very sad that his colleagues Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy aren’t alive to share this prize with him.”