Today, the 2010 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Robert Edwards, the 85-year-old British scientist who pioneered the in-vitro fertilization technique, which has gone on to help four million women around the world have a baby.
It took Edwards and his colleague Dr. Steptoe two decades of basic biology research — studying the life cycle of the human egg and figuring out how to help egg and sperm mature and unite outside the body — to make the procedure possible. One in 10 couples has fertility problems, and the in-vitro method has been one of the most widely used and effective ways of helping them.
But when the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978, not everyone saw it as a good thing.
IVF was initially met with concern — many saw it as tinkering with nature and therefore immoral and unethical (I’m sure it initially sounded a bit sci-fi). Over time, though, research showed that babies born using the technique were healthy and it became accepted medical protocol.
Improvements to Edward’s technique are being made all the time. Today, in fact, it was announced that scientists are figuring out ways to improve the odds of IVF success. By studying the development of fertilized eggs into blastocysts (balls of cells that become embryos) they have pinpointed ways to tell which egg and sperm combos will be successful. Presumably, this will help doctors choose which ones to implant — increasing the odds of pregnancy and cutting down the need to implant multiple fertilized eggs.
It’s a good day for IVF.
Image: Buffalo News
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