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Nobel awarded to developer of in vitro fertilization

STOCKHOLM - Robert Edwards of Britain won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine yesterday for developing in vitro fertilization, a breakthrough that has helped millions of infertile couples have children but also ignited an enduring controversy with religious groups.

Edwards, 85, professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, started working on IVF as early as the 1950s. Together with British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, he developed the technique, in which eggs are removed from a woman, fertilized outside her body and then implanted into the womb. Steptoe died in 1988.

On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown in Britain became the first baby born through the groundbreaking procedure, marking a revolution in fertility treatment.

Since then, some 4 million people have been born using the technique, the Nobel committee said, a rate that is up to 300,000 babies worldwide a year, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

Today, the probability that an infertile couple will take home a baby after a cycle of IVF is 1 in 5, about the same odds that healthy couples have of conceiving naturally.

"His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10 percent of all couples worldwide," the committee in Stockholm said in its citation.

Prize committee secretary Goran Hansson said Edwards was not in good health when the committee tried to reach him Monday. Bourn Hall said Edwards was too ill to give interviews. Brown, 32, gave birth to her first child in 2007, a boy who she said was conceived naturally.