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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 on 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.
Bourn Hall Clinic
Refinements in technology have increased pregnancy rates and it is estimated that in 2010 about 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:
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."
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 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 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."
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.
^"1978: First 'test tube baby' born". BBC. 25 July 1978. Retrieved 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 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.