Robert Edwards (physiologist)

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Sir Robert Edwards

Robert Geoffrey Edwards

(1925-09-27)27 September 1925[6]
Batley, England
Died10 April 2013(2013-04-10) (aged 87)
near Cambridge, England
Alma mater
Known forPioneering in-vitro fertilisation
(m. 1959)
Scientific career
ThesisThe experimental induction of heteroploidy in the mouse (1955)
Doctoral advisorR. A. Beatty
C. H. Waddington[4]
Doctoral studentsRichard Gardner (embryologist)
Martin Hume Johnson
Roger Gosden
Azim Surani[5]

Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards CBE FRS MAE[2][3][7] (27 September 1925 – 10 April 2013) was a British physiologist and pioneer in reproductive medicine, and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) in particular. Along with obstetrician and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe[8] and nurse Jean Purdy, Edwards successfully pioneered conception through IVF, which led to the birth of Louise Brown on 25 July 1978.[9] They founded the first IVF programme for infertile patients and trained other scientists in their techniques. Edwards was the founding editor-in-chief of Human Reproduction in 1986.[10] In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for the development of in vitro fertilization".[11][12]

Education and early career[edit]

Edwards was born in Batley, Yorkshire, and attended Manchester Central High School[6] on Whitworth Street in central Manchester, after which he served in the British Army, and then completed his undergraduate studies in biology, graduating with an ordinary degree from Bangor University.[13][14] He studied at the Institute of Animal Genetics and Embryology at the University of Edinburgh, where he was awarded a PhD in 1955 under the supervision of R.A. Beatty and C. H. Waddington.[4]

Career and research[edit]

After a year as a postdoctoral research fellow at the California Institute of Technology he joined the scientific staff of the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill. After a further year at the University of Glasgow, in 1963 he moved to the University of Cambridge as Ford Foundation Research Fellow at the Department of Physiology, and a member of Churchill College, Cambridge. He was appointed Reader in physiology in 1969.[15]

Human fertilisation[edit]

Circa 1960 Edwards started to study human fertilisation, and he continued his work at Cambridge, laying the groundwork for his later success. In 1968 he was able to achieve fertilisation of a human egg in the laboratory and started to collaborate with Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecological surgeon from Oldham. Edwards developed human culture media to allow the fertilisation and early embryo culture, while Steptoe used laparoscopy to recover ovocytes from patients with tubal infertility. Their attempts met significant hostility and opposition,[16] including a refusal of the Medical Research Council to fund their research and a number of lawsuits.[17][18] Roger Gosden was one of his first graduate students.[3]

The birth of Louise Brown, the world's first 'test-tube baby', at 11:47 pm on 25 July 1978 at the Oldham General Hospital made medical history: in vitro fertilisation meant a new way to help infertile couples who formerly had no possibility of having a baby. Nurse Jean Purdy was the first to see Brown's embryo dividing.[19]

Bourn Hall Clinic

Refinements in technology have increased pregnancy rates and it is estimated that in 2010 about 4 million children have been born by IVF,[11] with approximately 170,000 coming from donated oocyte and embryos.[20][21][22] Their breakthrough laid the groundwork for further innovations such as intracytoplasmatic sperm injection ICSI, embryo biopsy (PGD), and stem cell research.

Edwards and Steptoe founded the Bourn Hall Clinic as a place to advance their work and train new specialists. Steptoe died in 1988. Edwards continued on in his career as a scientist and an editor of medical journals.

Honours and awards[edit]

Edwards received numerous honours and awards including:

  • Edwards was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1984.[2][3]
  • In 1994, Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Valencia (Spain).
  • In 2001, he was awarded the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award by the Lasker Foundation "for the development of in vitro fertilization, a technological advance that has revolutionized the treatment of human infertility."[23]
  • In 2002, he was awarded Grand Hamdan International Award - Obstetrics & Gynecology by Hamdan Medical Award.[24]
  • In 2007, he was ranked 26th in The Daily Telegraph's list of 100 greatest living geniuses.[25]
  • In 2007, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield.
  • On 4 October 2010, it was announced that Edwards had been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the development of in-vitro fertilisation.[11] The Nobel Committee praised him for advancing treatment of infertility and noted that babies of IVF have similar health statuses to other babies.[26] Göran K. Hansson, secretary of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, announced the news.[26] The first child of IVF Louise Brown described the award as "fantastic news".[27] A Vatican official condemned the move as "completely out of order".[27][28] As mentioned by Simon Fishel, "In December 2010, at the Nobel awards ceremony that was full of pathos in Bob's absence, these precious words were spoken, 'In the absence of this year's Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, I ask Professor Edwards' wife and long-term scientific companion, Dr Ruth Fowler Edwards, to come forward and receive his Prize from the hands of His Majesty the King'".[29]
  • Edwards was knighted in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to human reproductive biology.[30][31]
  • Edwards featured in the BBC Radio 4 series The New Elizabethans to mark the diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. A panel of seven academics, journalists and historians named him among the group of people in the UK "whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and given the age its character".[32]

Personal life[edit]

Edwards married Ruth Fowler Edwards (1930–2013), also a scientist with significant work, granddaughter of 1908 Nobel laureate physicist Ernest Rutherford and daughter of physicist Ralph Fowler, in 1956.[33] The couple had five daughters and 12 grandchildren.[34]


Edwards died at home near Cambridge, England[34] on 10 April 2013 after a long lung illness.[35] A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge said "He will be greatly missed by family, friends and colleagues."[36] The Guardian reported that, as of Edwards' death, more than four million births had resulted from IVF.[36] Louise Brown said "His work, along with Patrick Steptoe, has brought happiness and joy to millions of people all over the world by enabling them to have children."[37] According to the BBC, his work was motivated by his belief that "the most important thing in life is having a child."[37]

A plaque was unveiled at the Bourn Hall Clinic in July 2013 by Louise Brown and Alastair MacDonald – the world's first IVF baby boy – commemorating Steptoe and Edwards.[38][39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Edwards profile at Lasker Foundation
  2. ^ a b c Gardner, Richard (2015). "Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards CBE. 27 September 1925 – 10 April 2013". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society. 61: 81–102. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0020. ISSN 0080-4606.
  3. ^ a b c d Johnson, M. H. (2011). "Robert Edwards: The path to IVF". Reproductive BioMedicine Online. 23 (2): 245–262. doi:10.1016/j.rbmo.2011.04.010. PMC 3171154. PMID 21680248.
  4. ^ a b Edwards, Robert Geoffrey (1955). The experimental induction of heteroploidy in the mouse (PhD thesis). University of Edinburgh. hdl:1842/13774. OCLC 606113063. EThOS open access
  5. ^ Surani, M. A. H. (1975). Modulation of Implanting Rat Blastocysts to Macromolecular Secretions of the Uterus. (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 500574338. EThOS
  6. ^ a b c "EDWARDS, Sir Robert (Geoffrey)". Who's Who. Vol. 2014 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ Fisher, S. J.; Giudice, L. C. (2013). "Robert G. Edwards (1925–2013)". Science. 340 (6134): 825. Bibcode:2013Sci...340..825F. doi:10.1126/science.1239644. PMID 23687039. S2CID 34150798.
  8. ^ Edwards, R. G. (1996). "Patrick Christopher Steptoe, C. B. E. 9 June 1913 – 22 March 1988". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 42: 435–52. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1996.0027. PMID 11619339.
  9. ^ Multiple sources:
    • Steptoe, P. C.; Edwards, R. G. (1978). "Birth After the Reimplantation of a Human Embryo". The Lancet. 312 (8085): 366. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(78)92957-4. PMID 79723. S2CID 31119969.
    • "1978: First 'test tube baby' born". BBC. 25 July 1978. Retrieved 13 June 2009. The birth of the world's first "test tube baby" has been announced in Manchester (England). Louise Brown was born shortly before midnight in Oldham and District General Hospital
    • Moreton, Cole (14 January 2007). "World's first test-tube baby Louise Brown has a child of her own". Independent. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010. The 28-year-old, whose pioneering conception by in-vitro fertilisation made her famous around the world ... The fertility specialists Patrick Steptoe and Bob Edwards became the first to successfully carry out IVF by extracting an egg, impregnating it with sperm and planting the resulting embryo back into the mother.
  10. ^ Fraser L. R. (2000). "In Appreciation of Professor R. G. Edwards, Founding Editor of the Human Reproduction Journals". MHR: Basic Science of Reproductive Medicine. 6 (5): 3. doi:10.1093/molehr/6.5.3. PMID 10775640.
  11. ^ a b c "The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Press Release". 4 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  12. ^ Multiple sources:
  13. ^ "SLA Biomedical & Life Sciences Division Blog: Robert G. Edwards : 2010 Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine". 7 October 2010. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  14. ^ "Health Zone 24×7 – Health – Fitness – Medicine – Medical". Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  15. ^ "Professor Sir Robert Edwards". The Daily Telegraph. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  16. ^ Myers, P. Z. (4 October 2010). "A surprising Nobel". Archived from the original on 7 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  17. ^ Wade, Nicholas (4 October 2010). "Pioneer of in Vitro Fertilization Wins Nobel Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  18. ^ Joseph D. Schulman, M.D., 2010. "Robert G. Edwards – A Personal Viewpoint" ISBN 1456320750
  19. ^ Weule, Genelle (25 July 2018). "The first IVF baby was born 40 years ago today". ABC News. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  20. ^ First live birth donation
  21. ^ "Home – OBG Management". Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  22. ^ "Library". Archived from the original on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  23. ^ "Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research 2001". 16 September 2007. Archived from the original on 9 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  24. ^ "Prof. Robert G Edwards - Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences - HMA". Retrieved 5 April 2023.
  25. ^ "Top 100 living geniuses". The Daily Telegraph. London. 28 October 2007. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  26. ^ a b "Nobel in medicine for IVF pioneer". The Times of India. 5 October 2010. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  27. ^ a b "Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer". BBC News. 4 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  28. ^ "Vatican slams Nobel win for IVF doc". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 October 2010. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  29. ^ Fishel, S. (2014). "Ruth Fowler (1930–2013)". Reproductive BioMedicine Online. 28: 3–4. doi:10.1016/j.rbmo.2013.10.005.
  30. ^ "No. 59808". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2011. p. 1.
  31. ^ "Queen's birthday honours list: Knights". The Guardian. London. 11 June 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  32. ^ "The New Elizabethans – Robert Edwards". BBC. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  33. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  34. ^ a b Kolata, Gina (10 April 2013). "Robert G. Edwards Dies at 87; Changed Rules of Conception With First 'Test Tube Baby'". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  35. ^ "IVF pioneer dies". Cambridge News. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  36. ^ a b Jones, Sam (10 April 2013). "IVF pioneer Robert Edwards dies aged 87". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  37. ^ a b "Test-tube baby pioneer Sir Robert Edwards dies". BBC News. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  38. ^ "Oldham News | News Headlines | World's first test-tube baby hails pioneers on 35th birthday - Chronicle Online". Archived from the original on 6 November 2016. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  39. ^ "News and events Bourn Hall".

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