On the 25th July 1978, the world bore witness to what can only be described as a miracle. The creation of life outside of the womb brought wonderment, controversy and media attention to the world of science as Louise Joy Brown became the first ‘test-tube’ baby.
Louise, as well as five million subsequent IVF births, owe their life to the great genius Professor Sir Robert Edwards. His research, work and persistence in developing what can only be described as a ‘moment of medical and historical significance’ brought happiness, joy and inspiration to millions.
As the father of IVF, Prof Edwards’s early life could not have been further away from the science laboratory. Born in 1925, he grew up in a working -class Yorkshire family before serving in the British Army during World War II. From death and destruction of War, it seems fitting that he would go onto become a creator of life.
After the war, he studied Biology, Animal Genetics and Embryology before attaining a doctorate in Genetics from Edinburgh University in 1955. In 1956, he married Ruth Folwer, fittingly the granddaughter of the ‘father of nuclear physics’ Ernest Rutherford, and daughter of physicist Ralph Fowler. They went on to have 5 daughter and 12 grandchildren.
After years as a research fellow in California, Mill Hill and Glasgow, he moved to Cambridge University joining the Department of Physiology.
It is here, Edwards began to really develop his study into human fertilisation, laying the foundations for his breakthrough. His collaboration with his colleague Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecologic surgeon, saw the two men successfully fertilise a human egg in a laboratory in 1968. Whilst seen as a scientific discovery, their experiment was met with hostility and opposition from a number of spheres including the medical world.
Amid such scrutiny, Lesley Brown underwent treatment that had been developed by Steptoe and Edwards that would later go on to be recognised as IVF. Lesley and John Brown had been trying conceive for 9 years and, in the evening of 25th July 1978 at 11:47, their wish became a reality as she gave birth to Louise.
Place in History
The success of in vitro fertilisation opened the door for infertile couples to have children. Since that July evening, there have been around five million recorded ‘test-tube’ babies and its development continues. Not only that, the biological research that Edwards and Steptoe achieved laid the groundwork for a whole host of scientific and biological advancements including embryo biopsy and stem cell research.
Edwards work saw him receive the Nobel Prize in 2010 with the committee praising his outstanding contribution to Physiology and Medicine through his IVF treatments and development. He was knighted in 2011 for his services to human reproductive biology. Throughout his career, he was recognised and awarded a number of professional and honorary awards, and was ranked 26th in the Daily Telegraphs list of 100 living geniuses.
Sir Robert Edwards passed away on 10th April 2013. His scientific achievements and unprecedented impact on so many lives is something that will continue to echo throughout history.
A Few Words…
The International charity, The International Society for Mild approaches in Assisted Reproduction (ISMAAR), owes their fabrication to Edwards and Professor Dr. Geeta Nargund, the Chief Executive and Professor Stuart Campbell, the Trustee of Health Education Research (HER) Trust, said: ‘Bob’s discoveries, research and work had a profound impact on the world, he inspired generations of medical professionals, and we are honoured to have known him. Through his work, he has brought joy to so many families and opened up new scientific frontiers.’
Great ideas come and go but great men live on. Motivated by his beliefs, in the words of Professor Edwards himself; “Nothing is more special than a child.”
Phil Warrington discusses the life of one of the most important figures in Sir Robert Edwards CBE, the pioneer of Natural IVF Treatment writing for Create Health Clinic are specialists in Natural and Mild IVF treatments.
The post is brought to you by Create Health Clinic