Monday, October 25, 2010

Test tube babies bags 2010 Nobel Prize

While I was busy watching athletes in action in the Commonwealth Games at New Delhi, another event, worthy of attention, no other than Nobel Prize announcements for groundbreaking works that left their indelible mark on humanity.

Why am I so particular about Nobel Prizes? What I'm interested about Nobel Prizes is not about who're getting the awards, but rather what are they awarded for. The Nobel Prizes began with a will by Alfred Nobel (guess who's he?) to reward people who made substantial contributions to humanity and changed the course of history.

Who wins the award?

The first Nobel Prize to be announced (every year) is in Physiology or Medicine. The award for this year goes to Robert G. Edwards from the University of Cambridge.

Robert Edwards
Robert Edwards

What is it awarded for?

As with any Nobel Prize you'd expect it will be awarded for something that has high impact on our well being. Robert Edwards is awarded the Nobel Prize for a technique called in vitro fertilization, which everybody calls it test tube babies. Test tube babies was first shown in rabbits (not by Robert Edwards) to show that egg cells can be fertilized in test tubes with a sperm and produce baby rabbits.

It turned out that human eggs have an entirely different life cycle from rabbits'. Robert Edwards sorted out everything that regulate maturation of human egg, sought gynacological expertise in obtaining a human egg and viola, the first test tube baby, Louise Brown was born in 1978.

nobel prize physiology medicine 2010 ivf poster
Click to view full size image. You can download a pdf version here.

What is the impact of his research?

By pioneering IVF, Robert Edwards brought great joy to many infertile couples. Infertility affects 10% of couples worldwide, to date more than 4 million people have been born through this technique. Many of these test tube babies have children and become parents themselves (by natural means). Not only this technique brought joy to couples, IVF has the potential to change the course of world history should any of these test tube babies or their descendants become world leaders. That's why I ask you not to underestimate this contribution of him.

Under normal circumstances, 20 - 30% of attempts lead to birth of a child. Complications in pregnancy can occur but it's very rare. Long term studies of IVF children shows that they are just as healthy as normal children. So, IVF is a safe and proven way to treat infertility.

What are the implications of infertility?

Infertility is not just a medical problem, it poses psychological consequences to affected people as well. Many infertile couples faced disappointment and psychological trauma all their lives. If you put yourself into their shoes, wouldn't IVF come as a gospel to you?

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine became one of the trending topics in Twitter moments after it was announced, so you can see how much it impacted the world. Likewise, the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Nobel Peace Prize trended on Twitter, so stay tuned for my write up on them.

Related links:
Press Release (from Nobelprize.org)
Advanced information (if you think you understand biology! - opens in pdf)

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