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In Vitro a Lifeline for Many Georgians

Atlanta Journal-Constitution,  Oct 5, 2010
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When a British scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize on Monday for pioneering in vitro fertilization, a north Fulton County woman got chills.

Kim Saunders knew that had it not been for the work of Robert Edwards at Cambridge, she would not be taking a daughter to piano lessons that afternoon.

“I recalled Louise Brown being the first IVF baby, and I thought Audrey wouldn’t have even had this opportunity to live had it not been for the work he did,” said Saunders, whose daughter is 7.

Edwards won the Nobel Prize in medicine for developing an extraordinary procedure that has since become so commonplace as to be unremarkable. With his research partner, the late gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, Edwards revolutionized reproductive medicine with the technique, in which a woman’s eggs are removed, fertilized in the lab and transferred to her womb. About 4 million children have been born through in vitro worldwide since Brown was delivered in Britain in 1978.

One of the first in vitro clinics in America — Reproductive Biology Associates — was in Atlanta. And one of the founding doctors was Hilton Kort, who trained with Edwards at Cambridge.

“Just being in his presence you knew that this was one in a million, that this was an incredible human being,” Kort said. “Our understanding of the science today is largely because of him. He is a giant.”

Edwards, 85, is in failing health and was unable to comment Monday on the honor he had won, his wife said. In 2003, Edwards told The Times of London that he was “not terribly bothered” about not getting a knighthood. “I’m a very left-wing socialist and I won’t shed a tear. But if you can organize a Nobel, please go ahead,” he joked.

About 7,000 babies have been born as a result of in vitro treatments at Reproductive Biology Associates. Those working in the field say the total number of Georgia babies born through in vitro probably numbers in the tens of thousands.

“In the early 1980s, [in vitro fertilization] was stigmatized, it really wasn’t that accepted,” Kort said. “Today it’s as mainstream as someone having cardiac surgery.”

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