Nobel for pioneer delights tube baby

2010-10-05 10:05

London – The world's first test tube baby said on Monday she was "delighted" that Bob Edwards, the pioneering scientist who made her birth possible, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Louise Brown, in a joint statement with her mother Lesley, said: "It's fantastic news. Me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) has been given the recognition he deserves.

"We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations to him and his family at this time."

Louise's birth in 1978 was the first to stem from the groundbreaking work of Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecologic surgeon.

She is now a mother herself, having given birth by natural means.

Thrilled and delighted

Although Edwards, now 85, is too frail to give interviews, his wife Ruth said the family was "thrilled and delighted" at the honour.

"The success of this research has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide," she said.

"His dedication and single-minded determination despite opposition from many quarters has led to successful application of his pioneering research."

Edwards and Steptoe, who died in 1988, developed IVF technology in which egg cells are fertilised outside the body and implanted in the womb.

They were forced to defend their work in the face of severe opposition, especially from the Catholic Church, which also criticised Monday's award.

Award out of order

"I find the choice of Robert Edwards completely out of order," Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which speaks for the Vatican, told ANSA news agency.

Meanwhile congratulations poured in from across Britain's science community and from colleagues of Edwards – although some wondered why it had taken so long for the Nobel committee to recognise his work.

Mike Macnamee, chief executive of Bourn Hall, the IVF clinic near Cambridge, eastern England, which Edwards founded, said: "Bob Edwards is one of our greatest scientists.

"His inspirational work in the early sixties led to a breakthrough that has enhanced the lives of millions of people worldwide."

Edwards' work did not just provide hope for millions of people with fertility problems, but contributed to many other scientific developments, according to Tony Rutherford, the chairperson of the British Fertility Society.

Long overdue recognition

"This award represents the long overdue recognition of the vision and tenacity of a man whose research led not only to the birth of Louise Brown and the subsequent revolution in reproductive medicine, but to many other scientific developments including embryonic stem cell research and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis," Rutherford said.

Many admirers also praised the close relationships Edwards built up with his patients – and his passion for fighting their corner against the critics, including the Catholic Church, which threatened to block his work.

"Bob's work has always been controversial but he has never shrunk from confronting that controversy," said Martin Johnson, Professor of Reproductive Sciences at Cambridge University, where Edwards carried out his research.

"He was a real visionary, and always ahead of his time on so many issues. He is also an amazing human being – warm and generous."

Johnson added: "I am absolutely delighted. This is long overdue."