Image: Robert Edwards
AP
Professor Robert Edwards started working on IVF as early as the 1950s.
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updated 10/4/2010 7:06:58 AM ET 2010-10-04T11:06:58

Robert Edwards of Britain won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for developing in-vitro fertilization, a breakthrough that has helped millions of infertile couples worldwide have children.

Edwards, an 85-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, started working on IVF as early as the 1950s. He developed the technique, in which egg cells are fertilized outside the body and then implanted in the womb, together with gynecologist surgeon Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988.

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On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown in Britain became the first baby born through the groundbreaking procedure, marking a revolution in fertility treatment.

"(Edwards') achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10 percent of all couples worldwide," the medicine prize committee in Stockholm said in its citation.

"Approximately 4 million individuals have been born thanks to IVF," the citation said. "Today, Robert Edwards' vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world."

The probability of an infertile couple taking home a baby after a cycle of IVF today is 1 in 5, about the same that healthy couples have of conceiving naturally.

Steptoe and Edwards founded the first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall in Cambridge.

'The look of joy in his eyes'
In a statement, Bourn Hall said one of Edwards' proudest moments was discovering that 1,000 IVF babies had been born at the clinic since Brown, and relaying that information to a seriously ill Steptoe shortly before his death.

"I'll never forget the look of joy in his eyes," Edwards said.

The statement said Edwards was "not well enough to give interviews" on Monday.

Brown, 32, reportedly is a postal worker in the English coastal city of Bristol. In 2007 she gave birth to her first child — a boy named Cameron. She said the child was conceived naturally.

Aleksander Giwercman, head of reproduction research at the University of Lund in Sweden, said Edward's achievements also have been important for other areas, including cancer and stem cell research.

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"We received a tool that could be used for many other areas," Giwercman said. "Many of the illnesses that develop when we are adults have their origin early on in life, during conception."

The medicine award was the first of the 2010 Nobel Prizes to be announced. It will be followed by physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday, literature on Thursday, the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and economics on Monday Oct. 11.

The prestigious awards were created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, and first handed out in 1901, five years after his death. Each award includes 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.5 million), a diploma and a gold medal.

Story: Obama: Nobel Peace Prize ‘a call to action’

Famous Nobel winners include President Barack Obama, who received last year's peace prize; Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill. But most winners are relatively anonymous until they suddenly are catapulted into the global spotlight by the prize announcement.

Associated Press Writer Raphael G. Satter contributed to this report from London.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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