Louise Brown, the world’s first “test tube baby”, led tributes for IVF pioneer Professor Sir Robert Edwards after his death at the age of 87.
Sir Robert, knighted in 2011 the year after receiving a Nobel Prize, was one of two fertility experts whose work led to Ms Brown’s birth on 25 July 1978. She said she thought of him as a “grandfather”. Since her arrival, more than five million babies have been conceived and delivered around the world using in vitro fertilisation techniques.
News of Sir Robert’s death after a “long illness” was announced on behalf of his family by Cambridge University, where he worked in the department of physiology. His colleague Patrick Steptoe, with whom he developed IVF treatment in the 1960s and 1970s, died in 1988.
Experts in the fields of fertility lavished praise on Sir Robert’s achievements, comparing him with Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Ms Brown said: “It was really sad to hear the news today. I have always regarded Robert Edwards as like a grandfather to me. His work, along with Patrick Steptoe, has brought joy to millions of people all over the world. His legacy will live on with all the IVF work being carried out throughout the world.”
Dr Allan Pacey, chair of the British Fertility Society, described Sir Robert as “a giant”. He added: “His work transformed our view of infertility from something that must be endured to a potentially treatable medical condition. His contribution to humankind is immeasurable.”
Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which licences IVF clinics and research, said: “Few scientists can say that their work has impacted on mankind in such a meaningful way. He was an exceptional man whose compassion and tenacity will be dearly missed.”
He leaves his wife Ruth, five daughters and 12 grandchildren.