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Robert G. Edwards

AKA Robert Geoffrey Edwards

Born: 27-Sep-1925
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Died: 10-Apr-2013
Location of death: Cambridge, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: England
Executive summary: In vitro fertilization

Military service: British Army (World War II)

English physiologist Robert G. Edwards pioneered in vitro fertilization, with his colleague, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe. The term in vitro is Latin, and literally means "in glass", or more colloquially "outside the body", and that is fundamental to what Edwards and Steptoe did they developed a technique to remove eggs from human ovaries, fertilize those eggs outside the human body, and then implant these fertilized eggs into a woman's womb for development into a human baby.

Edwards began his work in the late 1950s, conducting experiments with scientist (and Edwards' future wife) Ruth Fowler, in which they were able to alter the ovulation time in mice. They found that under carefully controlled conditions, dormant eggs that had been removed from mouse ovaries could be brought toward maturation outside the female mouse's body, then reinstalled in the mouse womb to follow normal development patterns.

After obtaining slices of human ovaries from gynecological surgeries, Edwards extracted human eggs and documented the timeline of human egg maturation in his laboratory. In 1969 he accomplished the first fertilization of a human egg outside a human body, and in 1972 he became the first scientist to implant an in vitro fertilized human egg in the womb. He conducted dozens of implantations over several years, yielding no pregnancies, as Edwards and Steptoe tinkered with the hormones and other conditions that could make the procedure lead to pregnancy. A late 1977 implantation led to the birth of Louise Brown, a normal, healthy child, the following summer.

Their work was, of course, extremely controversial. Edwards and Steptoe had their funding denied by the National Institute of Medical Research, and their work was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious and political leaders as "playing God". Common complaints included the claim that conception is "sacred", or that embryos are entitled to full human rights from the very moment of fertilization, and thus manipulating them is child abuse and discarding them is tantamount to murder.

The offense and outcry faded somewhat over subsequent decades, as in vitro fertilization became almost commonplace in technologically advanced nations. About ten percent of heterosexual couples of childbearing years are medically infertile for a wide assortment of reasons, and Edwards and Steptoe's work has been almost literally a godsend for such couples.

By 2010, when Edwards won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, it was estimated that his work had brought about four million children into previously childless families. He was 85 years old when his Nobel Prize was announced, and suffering from unidentified health problems. A former colleague told reporters that Edwards "is not in a position to understand the honor he has received today", and a Vatican official, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, said that any accolade for Edwards is "completely out of order". He died in 2013.

Father: Samuel Edwards
Mother: Margaret Edwards
Wife: Ruth Fowler (scientist, five daughters)

    High School: Manchester Central High School, Manchester, UK
    University: BS, University of Wales (1951)
    University: PhD, University of Edinburgh (1957)
    Scholar: California Institute of Technology (1957-58)
    Scholar: National Institute of Medical Research (1958-62)
    Teacher: University of Glasgow (1962-63)
    Teacher: Cambridge University (1963-85)
    Professor: Human Reprodiction, Cambridge University (1985-89)
    Fellow: Churchill College, Cambridge University

    Commander of the British Empire
    Lasker Award 2001
    Nobel Prize for Medicine 2010
    European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology Chair, 1984-86

Author of books:
A Matter of Life (1980, non-fiction; with Patrick Steptoe)
Mechanisms of Sex Differentiation in Animals and Man (1981, biology; with Colin Austin)
Preconception and Preimplantation Diagnosis of Human Genetic Disease (1993, biology)
Modern Assisted Conception (2003, biology; with Francisco Rísquez)

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