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2010 Nobel Prize: Test-Tube Baby Pioneer Robert Edwards Wins

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NY Daily News: The British scientist who helped create the first test-tube baby was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine Monday.

Robert Edwards

And nobody was happier for Robert Edwards than Louise Brown, who on July 25, 1978, became the first child born through in vitro fertilization.

"It's fantastic news," Brown said in an e-mail. "We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations to him and his family at this time."

Edwards and research partner Patrick Steptoe did their pioneering work in the face of harsh criticism by religious leaders and many medical ethicists.

But since Brown's birth, some four million test-tube babies have been born to women - more than 500,000 in the U.S. alone. And Brown has become a mom, too, although she did it the old-fashioned way.

Brown's birth "was a paradigm shift and showed for the first time that it was possible to treat infertility," Christer Hoog of Sweden's Karolinska Institute said at the Nobel news conference.

"That single event is the most important part of Edwards's achievement."

Edwards will receive a $1.5 million prize for his ground-breaking work. Steptoe died in 1988.
Now 85 and ailing, Edwards got the good news from his wife, Ruth Fowler.

"The success of this research has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide," Fowler said. "His dedication and single-minded determination despite opposition from many quarters has led to successful application of his pioneering research."

Edwards and Fowler have five daughters and 11 grandchildren.

As a young researcher, Edwards was working on mice reproduction when he came up a way to coax dormant eggs to mature outside the bodies of female mice.

By 1972, Edwards and Steptoe were attempting to place eggs in the womb of infertile women. And four years later they gave Brown's "mum" Lesley a baby by introducing one of her eggs to her husband's sperm in a petri dish.

Once the egg was fertilized, the doctors placed it back in Lesley Brown's uterus and her baby was born nine months later.

That birth was a worldwide sensation, but it only emboldened Edwards' and Steptoe's critics. The Archdiocese of New York denounced them for wandering into "an ethical minefield."

"We would not like to see the point where science dehumanizes the act of marriage," the Rev. Anthony Bevilacqua told the Daily News at the time.

The doctors were forced to stop their work for four years because the British government refused to support them.

Now, IVF is commonplace, with 142,000 such procedures done in the U.S. alone since 1999, according to Marketdata Enterprises Inc.

The Catholic Church is still opposed to IVF; Pope Benedict recently restated the church's position against the procedure.

Read more stories in the news.

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