- Associated Press - Monday, October 4, 2010

STOCKHOLM (AP) - Robert Edwards of Britain won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for developing in-vitro fertilization, a breakthrough that ignited heated controversy in the 1970s but has helped millions of infertile couples since then 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 removed from a woman, fertilized outside her body and then implanted into the womb _ together with British gynecologist surgeon 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.

“(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.”

Today, the probability that an infertile couple will take home a baby after a cycle of IVF is 1 in 5, about the same odds that healthy couples have of conceiving naturally.

Prize committee secretary Goran Hansson said Edwards was not in good health and would not be giving interviews on Monday.

“I spoke to his wife and she was delighted and she was sure he would be delighted too,” Hansson told reporters in Stockholm.

Steptoe and Edwards developed IVF from the early beginning experiments into a practical course of medical and founded the first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall in Cambridge in 1980.

Their work stirred a “lively ethical debate,” the citation said, with many religious leaders and some scientists demanding the project be stopped. When the British Medical Research Council declined funding, a private donation allowed Steptoe and Edwards to continue their research.

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 in 1988.

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

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.

William Ledger, head of reproductive and developmental medicine at Sheffield University, called the award “an appropriate recognition for a man who’s done so much to change the lives of so many people.”

“The only sadness is that Patrick Steptoe has not lived to see this day because it was always a joint team effort between the two of them,” Ledger said.

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