Robert Edwards, Pioneer of In-Vitro Fertilization, Dies; “Edwards overcame one technical hurdle after another in his persistence to discover a method that would help to alleviate infertility”

Updated April 10, 2013, 3:52 p.m. ET
ROBERT EDWARDS 1925-2013
Scientist Who Developed In-Vitro Fertilization

Robert Edwards was a feisty British embryologist who fundamentally transformed human procreation by developing in vitro fertilization.

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Professor Robert Edwards (left) posing for pictures with the world’s first IVF baby Louise Brown, (second right) her son Cameron (right) and her mother Lesley Brown in 2008. during a celebration ahead of Louise’s 30th birthday at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, England.

Dr. Edwards, who died Wednesday in England at age 87, was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery, which resulted in the first test-tube baby and provided the basis for genetic screening and stem cell research.

Louise Brown, the first baby conceived via IVF, was born in England on July 25, 1978. More than four million IVF babies since have been born world-wide.

Working with gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988, Dr. Edwards overcame political and religious hostility, as well as the disapproval of many other scientists.

“By a brilliant combination of basic and applied medical research, Edwards overcame one technical hurdle after another in his persistence to discover a method that would help to alleviate infertility,” the Nobel Prize committee said in its award citation.Dr. Edwards was in failing health at the time and unable to attend the award ceremony.

Raised in Manchester, England, Robert Geoffrey Edwards attended the University of Edinburgh, where he received a Ph.D. studying developmental biology in mice. In 1963, he took a position at Cambridge University, his home for the rest of his career.

In 1968, Dr. Edwards teamed with Dr. Steptoe to study fertilization and develop methods that would allow the sperm and egg to survive outside the womb. The team performed key experiments with no public funding or direct research support, at a time when the concept of a test-tube baby seemed the stuff of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

The birth of the first child who began life as an embryo outside the human body made headlines world-wide and ultimately spawned hundreds of commercial IVF clinics.

Safety fears turned out to be largely unfounded. Long-term studies have shown that IVF children usually are as healthy as other children.

Dr. Edwards never hesitated to debate the implications of his work and successfully sued some of his critics for libel.

In 1989, he recalled the pressure. “We were subjected to vast criticism and not a little personal abuse from personal colleagues and others whose most frequent cry was that we should not play God and we should not interfere with nature,” he said.

The success of IVF spawned social experiments and legal conundrums. Affluent couples contracted for surrogate wombs. Sisters sometimes carried to term their sister’s children and, on occasion, a grandmother gave birth to her own grandchildren. Legal disputes over the custody of frozen embryos became a staple of divorce proceedings.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. Edwards received the 2001 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research. In 2011, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth “for services to human reproductive biology.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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