Some exciting news in the world of Fertility Care just left the Associate Press
– Robert Edwards, one of the fathers of human in vitro fertilization (IVF), just won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine.
Dr. Zhang, here at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York had the privilege of working with Edwards from 1987-1991 while pursuing his PhD in IVF at Cambridge University. Although this will undoubtedly be a controversial award, Zhang shares in the excitement of his colleagues and is aware of the reasons why this award is an important form of public recognition for the field of Fertility Care.
Zhang sees the award as somewhat unexpected because, in general, Nobel prizes tend to get awarded for theoretical achievements – people with great ideas. “IVF, however, isn’t just an idea,” Zhang says, “it is a medical practice that doctors have been devoting their lives to – a practice that some of us do every day to help couples who suffer from infertility.”
Awarding the Nobel prize to a pioneer in IVF is significant because it comes as a change to a long history of nominations, but no actual awards, for work and achievements in IVF. “If Edwards is the ‘father’ of IVF,” Zhang says, “the ‘grandfather’ of IVF would be a man named M.C. Chang” who, in 1959 reported the first live birth following lab fertilization with a rabbit (Nature 1959). Although Chang and, later, Dr. Yanagimachi, one of Chang’s post-doc students, were nominated for no less than five Nobel prizes for their respective achievements, Edwards is the first to actually win the prize.
Karl Ritter and Malin Rising, writers for the Associate Press, talk about how part of the reason why it may have taken the Nobel committee so long to recognize the work done with fertility care was due to speculation about the health of so called “test-tube” babies conceived in vitro and their subsequent ability to have healthy babies of their own. Louise Brown, the first person born to in vitro fertilization on July 25, 1978, however, has grown up healthy and, in fact, gave birth to her own child, conceived naturally, in 2007. The success of the first baby born from in vitro fertilization was no doubt a large factor in the decision to recognize one of the founders of in vitro fertilization.
Zhang says that he hopes the award will help raise consciousness about fertility care in the United States, which is still one of only a few developed countries that have not made fertility care part of its standard health care coverage. “There are many treatments that are commonly accepted as part of basic healthcare that should be provided – in most countries fertility care is one of those. Unfortunately this is not the case in America even though Americans are afflicted by the same rates of infertility as people in any other country.”