Robert Geoffrey Edwards

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Robert Geoffrey Edwards


British Physiologist

Robert Geoffrey Edwards and Patrick Christopher Steptoe (1913-1988) pioneered in vitro fertilization (IVF), making the birth of the first "test-tube baby" possible in 1978. By quickly transferring the oocyte (the egg prior to maturation) to an optimal cultural medium, Edwards was able to replicate the conditions necessary for an egg and sperm to survive outside the womb.

Edwards was born on September 27, 1925, the son of Samuel and Margaret Edwards. He attended the University of Wales from 1948 to 1951, and the University of Edinburgh from 1951 to 1957. He then worked for a year as research fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) before joining the staff at the National Institute of Medical Research in Mill Hill, England, in 1958.

Edwards took a position at the University of Glasgow in 1962, but moved to Cambridge University the following year. In 1965 he served as visiting scientist at Johns Hopkins University, and in 1966 at the University of North Carolina. Later, he returned to Cambridge, where he became Ford Foundation reader (instructor) in physiology in 1969, a position he held until 1985. While at Cambridge in 1968, Edwards met P. C. Steptoe, with whom he began an important collaboration.

By analyzing the conditions necessary for an egg and sperm to survive outside the womb, Edwards was able to develop an appropriate medium—which he called "a magic culture fluid"—in which to achieve fertilization. In 1971 he and Steptoe performed their first attempt to implant a fertilized egg in a patient. They were not successful, however, until the birth of Louise Brown, dubbed the first "test-tube" baby, in July 1978. The IVF method developed by Edwards and Steptoe soon gained wide acceptance, and proved successful in dealing with a number of types of infertility.

After serving as visiting scientist at the Free University of Brussels in 1984, Edwards became professor of human reproduction at Cambridge in 1985. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1989, after which he became a professor emeritus. Together with Steptoe, he established the Bourne Hallam Clinic, and served as its scientific director from 1988 to 1991.

Edwards is Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College, and served as chair of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology from 1984 to 1986. He is a member and honorary member of several other professional societies, and has received awards from around the world. His publications include A Matter of Life (1980), written with Steptoe, and several other works.