Patrick Steptoe- In vitro fertilisation

Patrick Christopher Steptoe

Born: 9 June 1913

              Oxford, England

Died: 21 March 1988 (aged 74)


Fields: Obstetrics


Institutions: Oldham General Hospital

                          Bourn Hall Clinic

                          Alma mater

                          King’s College London

                          St George’s Hospital                                         Medical School

Known for: In vitro fertilization

Notable awards:     CBE


Patrick Christopher Steptoe was a British scientist and medical researcher who, with Robert Edwards, perfected in-vitro fertilization of the human egg. Their technique enabled the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first “test-tube baby,” on 25 Jul 1978. Steptoe, at an early age, chose medicine over music. During World War II, he was captured by the Italians after his ship was sunk. After the war, with a practice in obstetrics and gynecology, he pioneered a new fiber-optic device, a kind of abdominal “telescope,” called a laparoscope, to perform minimally invasive abdominal surgery. In 1966, to help women with blocked Fallopian tubes, a major cause of infertility, he teamed up with Robert Edwards, a Cambridge physiologist who had developed a way to fertilize human eggs in the lab. Steptoe subsequently helped hundreds of infertile couples have children. He was awarded the C.B.E.

Bourn Hall Clinic

Patrick Christopher Steptoe CBE FRS (9 June 1913, Oxford, England – 21 March 1988, Canterbury) was a British obstetrician and gynaecologist and a pioneer of fertility treatment. Steptoe was responsible with biologist and physiologist Robert Edwards for developing in vitro fertilization. Louise Joy Brown, the first test-tube baby, was born on 25 July 1978.Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the development of in vitro fertilization, however because the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously, Steptoe was not eligible for consideration.


Laparoscopy pioneer

After the Second World War, he studied obstetrics and, in 1951 he started to work at the Oldham General Hospital. From Raoul Palmer he learned the technique of laparoscopy and promoted its usefulness. In 1967 he published a book on Laparoscopy in Gynaecology. Subsequently, Robert Edwards, a physiologist from the University of Cambridge, contacted him and got him interested to collaborate in the development of in vitro fertilization.

Work with Edwards

Steptoe became the Director of the Centre for Human Reproduction, Oldham in 1969. Using laparoscopy, he collected the ova from volunteering infertile women who saw his place as their last hope to achieve a pregnancy. Edwards and his assistant Jean Purdy provided the laboratory expertise. During this time they had to endure criticism and hostility to their work. 

Finally, in 1978, the birth of Louise Brown changed everything. Although he encountered further criticism, other clinics were able to follow the lead and patients responded. To accommodate the increased patient number and train specialists, he and Edwards founded the Bourn Hall Clinic, Cambridgeshire in 1980 of which he was a Medical Director until his death.

Awards and honors:
Steptoe was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in March 1987.His nomination reads:
Steptoe was the first in Britain to use laparoscopy for the routine diagnosis of gynaecological disorders, and the first anywhere to use it as a standard technique for sterilization. He sought to develop it for the treatment of infertility and, by 1969, succeeded in using it for the first time to recover oocytes from preovulatory ovaries. During the next ten years he recovered many oocytes, which were fertilized and nurtured by Edwards, and implanted them in the uterus through the cervix uteri, thus helping to clarify many fundamental aspects of human ovulation, fertilization, and implantation. After more than 100 attempts a pregnancy was obtained which was carried to term. Now the technique, as used by Steptoe and others, is so successful that almost a third of women accepted for treatment have healthy infants. His achievement is particularly remarkable as it was obtained in a district hospital with only local backing.
A plaque was unveiled at the Bourn Hall Clinic in July 2013 by Louise Brown and Alastair MacDonald – the world’s first IVF baby boy – commemorating Steptoe and Edwards. Steptoe is also commemorated with a plaque at the Maternity Ward at the Royal Oldham Hospital.

Draft by- Prajakta Patankar


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