Robert Edwards (physiologist)

For other people named Robert Edwards, see Robert Edwards (disambiguation).
Sir Robert Edwards
Born Robert Geoffrey Edwards
(1925-09-27)27 September 1925[1]
Batley, England
Died 10 April 2013(2013-04-10) (aged 87)
near Cambridge, England
Alma mater
Thesis The experimental induction of heteroploidy in the mouse (1955)
Known for Pioneer of in-vitro fertilisation
Notable awards
Spouse Ruth Fowler Edwards[1]

Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards, CBE, FRS[3][4][5] (27 September 1925 – 10 April 2013) was an English physiologist and pioneer in reproductive medicine, and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) in particular. Along with the surgeon Patrick Steptoe,[6] Edwards successfully pioneered conception through IVF, which led to the birth of Louise Brown [7] on 25 July 1978.[8][9] They founded the first IVF program for infertile patients and trained other scientists in their techniques. Edwards was the founding editor-in-chief of Human Reproduction in 1986.[10] In 2010, Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for the development of in vitro fertilization".[11][12][13]

Education and early career

Edwards was born in Batley, Yorkshire, and attended Manchester Central High School[1] on Whitworth Street in central Manchester, after which he served in the British Army, and then completed his undergraduate studies in biology, graduating with an Ordinary degree at Bangor University.[14][15] He studied at the Institute of Animal Genetics and Embryology at the University of Edinburgh, where he was awarded a PhD in 1955.[16] After a year as a postdoctoral research fellow at the California Institute of Technology he joined the scientific staff of the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill. After a further year at the University of Glasgow, in 1963 he moved to the University of Cambridge as Ford Foundation Research Fellow at the Department of Physiology, and a member of Churchill College, Cambridge. He was appointed Reader in physiology in 1969.[17]

Human fertilization

Further information: in vitro fertilization

Circa 1960 Edwards started to study human fertilization, and he continued his work at Cambridge, laying the groundwork for his later success. In 1968 he was able to achieve fertilization of a human egg in the laboratory and started to collaborate with Patrick Steptoe, a gynecologic surgeon from Oldham. Edwards developed human culture media to allow the fertilisation and early embryo culture, while Steptoe utilized laparoscopy to recover ovocytes from patients with tubal infertility. Their attempts met significant hostility and opposition,[18] including a refusal of the Medical Research Council to fund their research and a number of lawsuits.[19] Additional historical information on this controversial era in the development of IVF has been published.[20]

The birth of Louise Brown, the world's first 'test-tube baby', at 11:47 pm on 25 July 1978 at the Oldham General Hospital made medical history: in vitro fertilisation meant a new way to help infertile couples who formerly had no possibility of having a baby.

Bourn Hall Clinic

Refinements in technology have increased pregnancy rates and it is estimated that in 2010 about 4 million children have been born by IVF,[11] with approximately 170,000 coming from donated oocyte and embryos.[21][22][23] Their breakthrough laid the groundwork for further innovations such as intracytoplasmatic sperm injection ICSI, embryo biopsy (PGD), and stem cell research.

Edwards and Steptoe founded the Bourn Hall Clinic as a place to advance their work and train new specialists. Steptoe died in 1988. Edwards continued on in his career as a scientist and an editor of medical journals.

Honours and awards

Edwards received numerous honours and awards including:

Personal life

Edwards married Ruth Fowler Edwards (1930-2013), also a scientist with significant work, granddaughter of 1908 Nobel laureate physicist Ernest Rutherford and daughter of physicist Ralph Fowler, in 1956.[33] The couple had 5 daughters and 12 grandchildren.[34]


Edwards died at home near Cambridge, England[34] on 10 April 2013 after a long lung illness.[35] A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge said "He will be greatly missed by family, friends and colleagues."[36] The Guardian reported that, as of Edwards' death, more than four million births had resulted from IVF.[36] Louise Brown said "His work, along with Patrick Steptoe, has brought happiness and joy to millions of people all over the world by enabling them to have children."[37] According to the BBC, his work was motivated by his belief that "the most important thing in life is having a child."[37]

A plaque was unveiled at the Bourn Hall Clinic in July 2013 by Louise Brown and Alastair MacDonald - the world's first IVF baby boy - commemorating Steptoe and Edwards.[38][39]


  1. 1 2 3 EDWARDS, Sir Robert (Geoffrey). Who's Who. 2014 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription required)
  2. Robert Edwards profile at Lasker Foundation
  3. 1 2 3 Gardner, Richard (2015). "Sir Robert Geoffrey Edwards CBE. 27 September 1925 — 10 April 2013". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society. 61. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2014.0020. ISSN 0080-4606.
  4. 1 2 3 Johnson, M. H. (2011). "Robert Edwards: The path to IVF". Reproductive BioMedicine Online. 23 (2): 245–262. doi:10.1016/j.rbmo.2011.04.010. PMC 3171154Freely accessible. PMID 21680248.
  5. Fisher, S. J.; Giudice, L. C. (2013). "Robert G. Edwards (1925-2013)". Science. 340 (6134): 825. doi:10.1126/science.1239644. PMID 23687039.
  6. Edwards, R. G. (1996). "Patrick Christopher Steptoe, C. B. E. 9 June 1913-22 March 1988". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 42: 434–426. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1996.0027. PMID 11619339.
  7. Steptoe, P. C.; Edwards, R. G. (1978). "Birth After the Reimplantation of a Human Embryo". The Lancet. 312 (8085): 366. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(78)92957-4. PMID 79723.
  8. "1978: First 'test tube baby' born". BBC. 1978-07-25. Retrieved 2009-06-13. The birth of the world's first "test tube baby" has been announced in Manchester (England). Louise Brown was born shortly before midnight in Oldham and District General Hospital
  9. Moreton, Cole (2007-01-14). "World's first test-tube baby Louise Brown has a child of her own". London: Independent. Retrieved 2010-05-22. The 28-year-old, whose pioneering conception by in-vitro fertilisation made her famous around the world ... The fertility specialists Patrick Steptoe and Bob Edwards became the first to successfully carry out IVF by extracting an egg, impregnating it with sperm and planting the resulting embryo back into the mother.
  10. Fraser LR (2000). "In Appreciation of Professor R. G. Edwards, Founding Editor of the Human Reproduction Journals". MHR. 6 (5): 3. doi:10.1093/molehr/6.5.3.
  11. 1 2 3 "The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Press Release". 2010-10-04. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  12. Jones Jr, H. W.; Gosden, R. G. (2013). "Professor Sir Robert Edwards, 1925-2013". Fertility and Sterility. 99 (7): 1799–800. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.04.042. PMID 23726252.
  13. Johnson, M. H.; Franklin, S. B.; Cottingham, M.; Hopwood, N. (2010). "Why the Medical Research Council refused Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe support for research on human conception in 1971". Human Reproduction. 25 (9): 2157. doi:10.1093/humrep/deq155. PMID 20657027.
  14. "SLA Biomedical & Life Sciences Division Blog: Robert G. Edwards : 2010 Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine". 2010-10-07. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  15. "Health Zone 24x7 - Health - Fitness - Medicine - Medical". Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  16. Edwards, Robert Geoffrey (1955). The Experimental Induction of Heteroploidy in the Mouse (PhD thesis). University of Edinburgh.
  17. "Professor Sir Robert Edwards". Telegraph. 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  18. Myers, PZ (2010-10-04). "A surprising Nobel". Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  19. Wade, Nicholas (October 4, 2010). "Pioneer of in Vitro Fertilization Wins Nobel Prize". New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  20. Joseph D. Schulman, M.D., 2010. "Robert G. Edwards – A Personal Viewpoint" ISBN 1456320750
  21. First live birth donation
  22. "Home — OBG Management". Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  23. "Library". Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  24. "Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research 2001". 2007-09-16. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  25. "Top 100 living geniuses". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  26. 1 2 "Nobel in medicine for IVF pioneer". The Times of India. 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-05.
  27. 1 2 "Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer". BBC News. 2010-10-04. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  28. "Vatican slams Nobel win for IVF doc". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-05.
  29. Fishel, S. (2014). "Ruth Fowler (1930–2013)". Reproductive BioMedicine Online. 28: 3. doi:10.1016/j.rbmo.2013.10.005.
  30. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59808. p. 1. 11 June 2011.
  31. "Queen's birthday honours list: Knights". London: The Guardian. 2011-06-11. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  32. "The New Elizabethans - Robert Edwards". BBC. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  33. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  34. 1 2 Kolata, Gina (10 April 2013). "Robert G. Edwards Dies at 87; Changed Rules of Conception With First 'Test Tube Baby'". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  35. "IVF pioneer dies". Cambridge News. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  36. 1 2 Jones, Sam (10 April 2013). "IVF pioneer Robert Edwards dies aged 87". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  37. 1 2 "Test-tube baby pioneer Sir Robert Edwards dies". BBC News. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
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