Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fond memories of working with Bob Edwards, the father of IVF

Alan Trounson is President of CIRM

Bob Edwards died April 10th in his sleep after a long illness. Bob was a friend, mentor, supporter and close associate for the vast majority of scientists interested in reproduction and infertility worldwide. He received the Nobel prize for medicine/physiology in 2010.

Robert G. Edwards, father of IVF, 1925-2013 (Photo: Bourn Hall)
I had the pleasure to know him when I was working in Cambridge, UK in 1974-1977. He was trying to make IVF (in vitro fertilization) work and we talked many times about how to solve the problems inherent in this new approach for treating human infertility. In 1977, I left Cambridge to work with Carl Wood – the other pioneer who was independently working on human IVF.

Bob, his partner Patrick Steptoe and his research assistant Jean Purdy, were able to produce the first two IVF children, in 1978-79. This was a massive development for medicine which he was awarded the Nobel Prize many years later for this advance. Their original methods of natural cycle IVF were quickly replaced by new approaches using fertility drugs, developed by members of the Wood group, who went on to produce many more babies beginning in 1981. By 2012 there were more than 5 million IVF children born worldwide.

Successful IVF enabled the developments in genetic screening of embryos for serious genetic disease as a preferred alternative to prenatal diagnosis and therapeutic abortion. IVF also enabled the advances that led to the discovery of human embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, which garnered the Nobel Prize in 2012 for Shinya Yamanaka, and to the clinical trials for blindness, spinal injury, and numerous other applications ongoing today.

Bob Edwards will be missed by all his colleagues and friends around the world, including those thousands who attend the yearly European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology that he founded, the readers of the scientific journal Reproductive Medicine Online that he created, and all the delighted IVF parents who now have a way to complete their own families. I will miss him as a friend, a scientist that I admired and debated with, and as someone who contributed more to human welfare than he ever received, or expected to receive, as reward from all of us.

Alan Trounson

1 comment:

  1. It was thanks to Bob Edwards' research over several decades that infertile couples can now realize their dreams. IVF techniques are still evolving - and must continue to do so. He faced stiff opposition, chiefly from the right, but also funding institutions. But the overwhelming view is that his work in assisted reproduction was a good thing.

    A truly revolutionary scientist.