24th July 2012: IVF pioneer, Professor Robert Edwards, has been chosen by the BBC as a ‘New Elizabethan’ for his outstanding contribution to fertility treatment, which has given the chance of parenthood to millions of couples worldwide.
Edwards and his collaborator Patrick Steptoe were responsible for the birth of the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown on 25th July 1978 and founded Bourn Hall near Cambridge, the first clinic to offer IVF treatment shortly after. The story is told in a book, ‘A Matter of Life’ by Steptoe and Edwards that has just been republished.
Their legacy lives on. 12,600 IVF babies have been born following fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic, which now treats 150 patients a month. Internationally more than five million IVF babies have been born.
Mike Macnamee, CEO of Bourn Hall Clinic comments:
“We are immensely proud of Bob Edwards and all that he and Steptoe achieved despite sustained criticism. It is very fitting that he should get the ‘people’s vote’ in this BBC poll.
“Many of the team still here at Bourn Hall worked with Steptoe and Edwards in those early days. One of the big advances since then has been the development of improved drugs to control the woman’s cycle and stimulate egg production. We now have very fine control over this mechanism, which has boosted success rates. Much of the early work was done here.”
Many of the techniques now used worldwide were pioneered at Bourn Hall Clinic, for example sperm and embryo freezing, surrogacy and also ICSI (Intra cytoplasmic Sperm Injection). This process, in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg to fertilise it, has given men with low sperm counts the chance to become a dad.
Edwards always wanted fertility treatment to be available to everyone who needed it. So it is fitting that Bourn Hall, along with selected clinics in Oxford, Leicester and London, hold the NHS contract for IVF treatment across the East of England. The results continue to be very good with 42% of NHS funded patients pregnant on their first IVF cycle for two years running and 70% of all patients pregnant within 3 cycles.
Mike explains that the work still continues:
“We are also working on enhancing our male fertility treatments and therapies for women who experience repeated miscarriage. Our knowledge of fertility is increasing all the time and we are now exceeding the 50 per cent ‘take home’ baby rate that Bob set out as his vision in the early days of the clinic.”
You can read more about The New Elizabethans programmes on BBC Radio 4 here.
Written by Nina Beadle