THE 2010 NOBEL PRIZE IN MEDICINE: Today In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Tomorrow Botox?

Daya Varma


Eighty-five year old  British Doctor,  Robert Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for the development of IVF therapy in humans. His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility. It is the other side of contraceptives used by a bigger population. There were rumours that  Gregory Goodwin Pincus, who introduced oral contraceptive would get the Nobel Prize but he did not and died in 1967.


There are two aspects to this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine.  Is the technique of IVF an advance  in science and is IVF socially needed?


Since the First Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1901 to German physician-scientist Emil von Behring for discovering the process of immunization, many have gone for techniques, not science. However all these techniques brought major advances in medicine. IVF is neither science nor a new advanced technique. It is doing with human ovum and sperm which is how fertilized eggs are produced  and culture of cells in appropriate media has been  routinely used in thousands of laboratories.


Indeed HeLa cells, (H from Henrietta and L from Lacks) taken from the cervix of a black American Henrietta and L from Lacks without her permission have been immortalized, and all the HeLa cells ever grown, were weighed, the weight would be  more than 50 million metric tons.


So nothing new as a technique was achieved by Dr. Edwards.   What is new about IVF is that it deals with human infertility. The beneficiaries of this technique are the rich who would rather have their own sperm and egg to be transformed into their replica rather than adopt a child. A successful IVF is an excruciating burden on women and that is why it has met the resistance of the feminist movement. Might be that is why the Nobel Committee decided to confer this year’s Nobel prize to Dr. Edward who was the first to successfully treat an infertile couple.


If anti-apartheid  Dr. Christiaan Barnard  (1922-2001)  of South Africa was not awarded a Nobel Prize for the first heart transplant in  1967, also a technical rather than scientific advance, why Nobel Prize for IVF? It is true that about ten percent of couples are infertile. It may also be true that equal number of fertile couples do not want to have children. Neither of these are health or social problems of any importance.


Indeed all people develop wrinkles as they age. Perhaps a Nobel Prize might be in offing for the person who introduced BOTOX against wrinkles and gave Hillary Clinton a new look.

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