Robert Edwards (physiologist)
Sir Robert Edwards
Robert Geoffrey Edwards
27 September 1925
|Died||10 April 2013 (aged 87)|
near Cambridge, England
|Known for||Pioneering in-vitro fertilisation|
|Spouse(s)||Ruth Fowler Edwards|
|Thesis||The experimental induction of heteroploidy in the mouse (1955)|
|Doctoral advisor||R. A. Beatty|
C. H. Waddington
|Doctoral students||Azim Surani|
Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards, FRS CBE MAE (27 September 1925 – 10 April 2013) was an English physiologist and pioneer in reproductive medicine, and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) in particular. Along with the surgeon Patrick Steptoe, and the nurse Jean Purdy, Edwards successfully pioneered conception through IVF, which led to the birth of Louise Brown on 25 July 1978. 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. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for the development of in vitro fertilization".
Education and early career
Edwards was born in Batley, Yorkshire, and attended Manchester Central High School 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 at Bangor University. He studied at the Institute of Animal Genetics and Embryology at the University of Edinburgh, where he was awarded a PhD in 1955.
Career and research
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.
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, including a refusal of the Medical Research Council to fund their research and a number of lawsuits. Additional historical information on this controversial era in the development of IVF has been published. Roger Gosden was one of his first graduate students.
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.
Refinements in technology have increased pregnancy rates and it is estimated that in 2010 about 4 million children have been born by IVF, with approximately 170,000 coming from donated oocyte and embryos. 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
Edwards received numerous honours and awards including:
- Edwards was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1984.
- 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."
- In 2007, he was ranked 26th in The Daily Telegraph's list of 100 greatest living geniuses.
- 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. The Nobel Committee praised him for advancing treatment of infertility and noted that babies of IVF have similar health statuses to other babies. Göran K. Hansson, secretary of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, announced the news. The first child of IVF Louise Brown described the award as "fantastic news". A Vatican official condemned the move as "completely out of order". 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'’.”
- Edwards was knighted in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to human reproductive biology.
- 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 7 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".
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. The couple had 5 daughters and 12 grandchildren. 
Edwards died at home near Cambridge, England on 10 April 2013 after a long lung illness. A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge said "He will be greatly missed by family, friends and colleagues." The Guardian reported that, as of Edwards' death, more than four million births had resulted from IVF. 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." According to the BBC, his work was motivated by his belief that "the most important thing in life is having a child."
- EDWARDS, Sir Robert (Geoffrey). ukwhoswho.com. Who's Who. 2014 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- Robert Edwards profile at Lasker Foundation
- 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.
- 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.
- Edwards, Robert Geoffrey (1955). The experimental induction of heteroploidy in the mouse. ed.ac.uk (PhD thesis). University of Edinburgh. hdl:1842/13774. OCLC 606113063. EThOS uk.bl.ethos.649897.
- Surani, M. A. H. (1975). Modulation of Implanting Rat Blastocysts to Macromolecular Secretions of the Uterus. ethos.bl.uk (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 500574338. EThOS uk.bl.ethos.474243.
- Fisher, S. J.; Giudice, L. C. (2013). "Robert G. Edwards (1925-2013)". Science. 340 (6134): 825. doi:10.1126/science.1239644. PMID 23687039.
- Edwards, R. G. (1996). "Patrick Christopher Steptoe". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 42: 435–52. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1996.0027. PMID 11619339.
- 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.
- "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.
- Fraser LR (2000). "In Appreciation of Professor R. G. Edwards, Founding Editor of the Human Reproduction Journals". MHR. 6 (5): 3. doi:10.1093/molehr/6.5.3.
- "The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Press Release". Nobelprize.org. 4 October 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
- Jones Jr, H. W.; Gosden, R. G. (2013). "Professor Sir Robert Edwards, 1925–2013". Fertility and Sterility. 99 (7): 1799–800. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.04.042. PMID 23726252.
- Johnson, M. H.; Franklin, S. B.; Cottingham, M.; Hopwood, N. (2010). "Why the Medical Research Council refused Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe support for research on human conception in 1971". Human Reproduction. 25 (9): 2157–74. doi:10.1093/humrep/deq155. PMC 2922998. PMID 20657027.
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- Wade, Nicholas (4 October 2010). "Pioneer of in Vitro Fertilization Wins Nobel Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
- Joseph D. Schulman, M.D., 2010. "Robert G. Edwards – A Personal Viewpoint" ISBN 1456320750
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- First live birth donation
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- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 November 2016. Retrieved 6 November 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)