Robert G. Edwards, the British scientist who developed in vitro fertilization, has won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology for Medicine.
The prize committee said Dr. Edwards, “battled societal and establishment resistance to his development of the in vitro fertilization procedure, which has so far led to the birth of around 4 million people.”
Though IVF is now common and widely accepted, the first “test tube baby” ignited controversy. As Nicholas Wade writes in The New York Times, it “was greeted with intense concern that the moral order was subverted by unnatural intervention in the mysterious process of creating a human being.”
The debates surrounding the research may be one reason the Nobel prize has been so late coming—it’s unusual for someone to be awarded this many years after a discovery. Now that IVF has proven to be safe and babies are born healthy to happy families, the controversy has mostly died down. His pioneering research has changed (and made possible) the lives of millions of people.
The Nobel Foundations home page states, “In retrospect, it is amazing that Edwards not only was able to respond to the continued criticism of in vitro fertilization, but that he also remained so persistent and unperturbed in fulfilling his scientific vision.”
Dr. Edwards worked for more than 20 years developing the procedure with a physician and colleague at Cambridge University, Patrick Steptoe. (Dr. Steptoe die in 1988.) Together they started the fist in vitro fertilization clinic. The first “test tube baby” was born in 1978.
Dr. Edwards said that he and Dr. Steptoe, “were deeply affected by the desperation felt by couples who so wanted to have children. We had a lot of critics but we fought like hell for our patients.”