LONDON (AP) — Robert Edwards, a Nobel laureate from Britain whose pioneering in vitro fertilization research led to the first test tube baby and has since brought millions of people into the world, died Wednesday at age 87.
The University of Cambridge, where he was a professor, said Edwards passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home just outside Cambridge.
Together with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, Edwards developed in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which resulted in the birth in 1978 of the world's first test tube baby, Louise Brown. At the time, the two were accused of playing God and interfering with nature.
Since then, the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology estimates that about 5 million babies have been born using the technique, which creates embryos in the laboratory before transferring them into a woman.
Edwards' "success in IVF was one of the 20th century's great medical feats, pursued at long odds and despite great opprobrium," International Federation of Fertility Societies President Joe Leigh Simpson said.
"He laid the groundwork for infertile couples worldwide to have children, with 1-4 per cent of all babies in Europe, North America and Australia now born by assisted reproductive technologies started by Professor Edwards. He will be greatly missed."
Experts say about 350,000 babies are born by IVF every year, mostly to people with infertility problems, single people and gay and lesbian couples.
"(Edwards) was an extraordinary scientist," said Dr. Peter Braude, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at King's College London, who was at Cambridge when Edwards and Steptoe were developing IVF.
"There was such hysteria around the kind of work he was doing," Braude said, noting that Edwards stopped his research for two years after he published details on how he had created embryos in the laboratory. "He wanted to work out what the right thing to do was, whether he should continue or whether he was out on a limb."