Robert 'Bob' Edwards and Patrick the Steptoe were both pioneers. Patrick pioneered the use of keyhole surgery in the UK and his book “Laparoscopy in Gynaecology’ published by E and S. Livingstone (Edinburgh, UK) in 1967 is a landmark in the history of surgery. In it, he describes his developmental use of the technique for performing sterilisations and for examining the internal organs diagnostically. However, it was not well received and key-hole surgery did not really start to take off in the UK until over 10 years later. One person who did read it was Bob Edwards, who rang Steptoe to discuss his laparoscopic skills in the autumn of 1967. What caught Bob’s eye were the descriptions of oviducal sperm recovery. Bob had been trying for at least 2-3 years to fertilise human eggs matured in vitro from immature eggs recovered from ovarian biopsies, his main aim then being to study the origins of aneuploidies such as Down, Klinefelter and Turner syndromes. He was struggling to get capacitated sperm to fertilise these eggs and Patrick’s technique appeared to offer a way out. However, they did not meet until the following Spring, when they started a collaboration, together with Jean Purdy that led first in 1979 to the successful fertilization of human eggs in vitro and then in 1978 to the birth of Louise Brown, the first ‘test tube baby”. In 2010, their achievements were rewarded by a long overdue Nobel prize but by then both Patrick and Jean were long dead, and Bob was too ill to receive award in person.
Bob and Patrick put their skills, commitment, time and resources into their research into IVF, more often than not meeting opposition from fellow scientific and medical professionals, the press, and the political and religious establishments - opposition that would have daunted or stopped most investigators. However, very early on, it was their patients who recognized that they were fighting battles on several fronts, including the absence of funding for their research. They started to offer donations to support the work, and Bob and Patrick set up a Trust Fund in 1973 as a home for these funds. The Trust Fund initially supported their own work, and then later under Bob's guidance offered limited support for small projects by others. The work of Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe has transformed the lives of millions through their work to alleviate the personal tragedies of infertility and genetic disease. Although this charity to support their research was initiated by donations from grateful patients, it is now supported internationally by patients (past and present), by the children born as a result of their research work, by their professional colleagues, and by well-wishers, all of whom share their compassion and aspirations.
What do we do?
Research underpinned their success, and research is still needed for the further safe development of new technologies. Income from the Charity’s endowed fund is used to support aims close to Bob & Patrick’s hearts, including
(i) The development of opportunities to engage in public education about Assisted Reproductive Technologies
(ii) To develop, foster and engage ethical deliberation and practice relating to the control and promotion of human reproduction internationally
(iii) The development of low cost simpler therapies for use by less well off patients world wide
(iv) The provision of seed-corn funds to help more junior investigators develop interdisciplinary research projects
(v) To support follow-up studies in the Assisted Reproductive Technologies
The trustees now invite you to make further donations to build an endowment that will commemorate in perpetuity these remarkable pioneers in ART.
Who are we?
- Professor Martin Johnson FRCOG, FRSB, FMedSci, FRS (Chief Executive Officer): Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Sciences, University of Cambridge & formerly research student of Bob Edwards
- Professor Peter Braude FRCOG, FMedSci: Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Kings College, London
- Dr Jenny Joy: daughter of Robert Edwards and compiler of his archive
- Professor Sir Richard Gardner FRS: Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford & formerly research student of Bob Edwards
- Professor Andrew Steptoe FMedSci: British Heart Foundation Professor of Psychology, University College London and son of Patrick Steptoe
- Professor Sarah Franklin FRSB: Professor of Sociology, University of Cambridge
The Advisory Panel:
- Dr Kamal Ahuja: Director, London Women’s Clinic & formerly research student of Bob Edwards. London, UK
- Dr Peter Brinsden: Former Director of Bourn Hall Clinic, UK
- Dr Jacques Cohen: Scientific Director of Assisted Reproduction at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine of Saint Barnabas & formerly research associate of Bob Edwards. New Jersey, USA
- Dr Alan De Cherney: Chief, Program in Reproductive Endocrinology and Science at NICHD, & Former Editor of Fertility and Sterility, Bethesda, USA
- Dr Colin Howles: President of Aries Consulting, Geneva, Switzerland, & formerly research associate of Edwards & Steptoe
- Dr. Zaid Kilani: Founder and Director of the Farah Hospital, Amman, Jordan
- Professor André Van Steirteghem: Former Editor of Human Reproduction, Brussels, Belgium