Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Nobel reward after 32 years!

Prof Brown in 1998
The Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2010 was announced this week. And it goes to Professor Robert Edwards of Britain for his research on Invitro fertilisation...which resulted in the first test tube baby in the history of the world. His achievement has helped bring 4 million infants into the world and raised challenging new questions about human reproduction.
Robert Edward Brown(born in 1925) was a reproductive Biologist at Cambridge University . With the help of surgeon Patrick Steptoe (died in 1988)..he pioneered conception through IVF...and the first test tube baby , Louise Brown was born on 25th July 1978. She is now aged 32 living well and gave birth to a son 3 years ago..which was a natural conception. She lives in Bristol, UK. 
The delay of 32 years in presenting this Nobel Prize....was because of the initial concern about the health of these babies. Now it has been proved beyond doubt that it is safe for the babies born. But still I think...the Nobel Prize comittee took a looooong time for this. Luckily Prof Brown is alive but  to receive this award which comes with $1.5 million. He also features as one of the TOP 100 LIVING GENIUSES published by Newyork Times (This list also has Nelson Mandela, Gary Kasparov, Steven Spielberg,Bill Gates, Steven Hawking & Mikhail Klasnikov). 

There are still many ethical issues unresolved...relating to IVF.Some of the interesting ones..
1. With IVF..a child can have upto 5 parents - the sperm donor, the egg donor, a surrogate mother who brings the child to term in her womb, and the couple intending to raise the child.In some countries..the legal mother is one who gives birth. Well this is definitely a confusion!
2.IVF clinics routinely fertilize more eggs than are implanted, at least at first. The resulting extra embryos can be frozen for storage. The parents decide about what to do with them. They might be destroyed ....for finding genetic defects, donating to someone else.
3. The child's right to access to information about his or her genetic background or mode of conception.

Whatever these ethical considerations/confusions are...Prof Brown (& Dr. Steptoe) both deserve the Nobel Prize. Prof Brown is currently admitted in his hospital in Cambridge for long term illness..but expected to be present at the ceremony. The Nobel Prize for other departments..are yet to be announced.