- Associated Press - Monday, October 4, 2010

STOCKHOLM (AP) - Robert Edwards of Britain won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for the development of in-vitro fertilization, a breakthrough that has helped millions of infertile couples to have children.

“His 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.

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

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

“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.

In a statement released before the Nobel announcement, Bourn Hall said one of Edwards‘ proudest moments was discovering that 1,000 IVF babies had been born at Bourn Hall since Louise Brown, and relaying that information to a seriously ill Steptoe, shortly before his death in 1988.

“I’ll never forget the look of joy in his eyes,” Edwards said.

The statement said Edwards was “not well enough to give interviews.”

The medicine award was the first of the 2010 Nobel Prizes to be announced. It will be followed by physics Tuesday, chemistry 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.

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.