5 November 2019
A/Prof John McBain reflects on the pioneering work of his late colleague Sir Robert Edwards
Photo Caption: A/Prof John McBain, Melbourne IVF Director, with Nobel prize winner Sir Robert Edwards
It is difficult to explain to people working in IVF these days the colossal figure Bob Edwards was in the 1970s. He was the originator of the germ of the idea, that blocked fallopian tubes and in time other causes of infertility, could be bypassed by removing the egg from the ovary, fertilising it in the laboratory, culturing the embryo and replacing it to the womb.
The 1970s saw intense competition between the Cambridge and Melbourne groups, with Steptoe & Edwards in Cambridge, and Wood, Johnston, Leeton & Lopata in Melbourne. I was privileged to join the Melbourne team in 1977 and shared their disappointment when the world’s first pregnancy was established by the Cambridge group, for which Edwards was in time awarded the Nobel prize for medicine and physiology.
The reputation of Melbourne as the place in the world for aspiring IVF units to learn the IVF technique was made and maintained due to the unwillingness of the Cambridge group to share their technology and ideas. This has been the great Melbourne tradition which we continue to this day by open reporting of our research through scientific publication and presentation of research at conferences.
We mourn the passing of a great medical scientist and friend who laid the scientific foundations for the success which is modern IVF. In Australia, this has led to the birth of 3% of nearly all children born.
A/Prof John McBain