Dr. Robert Edwards, the IVF pioneer responsible for the first successful IVF in the world, was announced as the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize for physiology. Dr. Edwards’ successful development of IVF technology was originally received by the public media as more science fiction than science. As a first year medical student in 1977, interested in women’s health, I became motivated by writings on his work to become an IVF physician. In 1980, I spent a month with Zev Rosenwaks at StonyBrook and started my reproductive endocrinology training. By that time Howard and Georgeanna Jones had successfully started the IVF program in Norfolk, Virginia, duplicating Dr. Edwards work.
The Joneses had just moved to Norfolk after a forced retirement at Johns Hopkins and hadn’t finished unpacking when the greatest fertility event of all time hit the news. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards had succeeded in Great Britain with creating a new life through a process they called In Vitro Fertilization that the media had termed “test tube babies”.
I had the great fortune to study REI (reproductive endocrinology, infertility) with the Joneses and Zev Rosenwaks in Norfolk from 1985-1988. In 1988, I started IVF on Long Island which was successful then in about 25% of cases. In 1990, I met Dr. Robert Edwards who impressed me with his wit, his charm as well as his great intellect. I told him about my softball team named East Coast IVF that Dr. Edwards found particularly amusing. After all the scientific and political challenges he overcame to successfully achieve a live birth through IVF, he was struck by the irony that IVF had become routine as a commonplace alternative for those with difficulty building their own families.
Today, IVF is now successful 50% of the time. Four million babies have been born who if not for the technology of IVF would not be here today. What a remarkable testimony to his scientific accomplishments. Dr. Edwards truly deserved the Nobel Prize for developing this technology that led to the creation of so many lives.
As someone who owes his career to the man I am forever grateful and to those who have been touched through the birth of one of the 4 million we owe him much more than we can ever give.