Nobel Prize-Winning Fertility Pioneer Robert Edwards Dies

British Physiologist Robert Edwards
A file photo shows British physiologist Robert G. Edwards (front) and his team of scientists working in their laboratory at Cambridge University on March 28, 1969. His work on in-vitro fertilization led to the first test-tube baby. Edwards, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010, died today at age 87. Source: Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Robert G. Edwards, the British physiologist whose work on in-vitro fertilization led to the first test-tube baby, has died, the University of Cambridge said. He was 87.

Edwards won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010 for work he did with Patrick Steptoe to create a procedure that resulted in the birth of Louise Brown in 1978. He died in his sleep today after a long illness, according to a statement from the university in Cambridge, England, where he had worked in the physiology department.

The scientists overcame criticism on ethical and religious grounds to develop a way to fertilize eggs outside a woman’s body and then place them in the womb. Infertility treatment is now a multibillion-dollar market, and the Nobel Assembly said in 2010 that about 4 million test-tube babies had been born.

“His inspirational work in the early ’60s led to a breakthrough that has enhanced the lives of millions of people worldwide,” Mike Macnamee, the chief executive of Bourn Hall, the Cambridge clinic where Edwards and Steptoe first performed IVF, said in the statement.

Edwards was born Sept. 27, 1925, in Leeds, England. He served in the British Army in Jordan, Egypt and Iraq before earning an undergraduate degree in zoology and agriculture from the University of Bangor, Wales. He did postgraduate work at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Animal Genetics. Edwards was knighted in 2011, according to the University of Cambridge.

Steptoe died in 1988. He didn’t share in the Nobel with Edwards because the prizes aren’t awarded posthumously.