Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The 2010 Nobel prizes: Medicine

October 4, 2010

Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. Some have greatness thrust upon them. Substitute “fame” for “greatness” and you have an updated version of Shakespeare’s quip that applies nicely to this year’s Nobel prize for medicine, which was awarded for the development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The born-famous was Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby. The achiever of fame, celebrated at the time in newspapers and on television, was Patrick Steptoe, the gynecologist who created Ms Brown in his laboratory in 1978. And the man who has had fame thrust upon him, a mere 32 years after the event, is Robert Edwards, who spent more than two decades developing the science that IVF relies on. Dr Edwards was honoured for this work by the Karolinska Institute, on October 4th (though the prize will not actually be handed over until December). Steptoe died in 1988, and prizes are not awarded posthumously, so Dr Edwards scoops the whole pool of SKr10m ($1.5m).

Dr Edwards began his work on mice, before moving to people. He gradually worked out how human eggs mature to the point where they can be fertilised, but had little success getting such fertilised eggs to develop into embryos that could be implanted into women, in order that they could grow into children.