International Women’s History Month: Women Who Shaped Fertility Care
In March, International Women's History Month is celebrated across the nation. At Prelude Fertility, we’re honoring the women instrumental in pioneering reproductive medicine. Here are some of the most well-known names in fertility care history.
Louise Joy Brown
An English woman named Louise Joy Brown, born in 1978, was the first baby born after conception through in vitro fertilization (IVF). The procedure that led to her birth at Royal Oldham Hospital in the United Kingdom is considered one of the most remarkable medical breakthroughs in history.
Brown’s mother, Lesley, was diagnosed with a blockage of her fallopian tubes and unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant for many years. She had taken extreme measures to try to have a baby, including undergoing failed surgical procedures to repair her blocked tubes.
Scientist Robert Edwards and gynecologist Patrick Steptoe fertilized Leslie Brown’s eggs in a Petri dish and, after two and a half days, implanted the eight-celled embryo into her uterus. Brown’s parents were told there was a one-in-a-million chance the implantation would result in a live birth, but the couple was intent on taking a chance, regardless of the odds.
Louise Brown, named the first “test-tube baby” by the press, attracted ongoing media attention during her mother’s pregnancy and after Louise’s birth. Edwards' contribution to the development of IVF won him a share of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Today, approximately five million babies have been born worldwide due to IVF.
Known for her pioneering work in fertility treatment, Jean Purdy was a British nurse and embryologist. Purdy worked with Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe as innovators of IVF. She was the first embryologist ever to view embryonic cells multiply in a Petri dish: the cells were those of Louise Brown, the first person born after IVF. Purdy passed away in 1985, but her contribution to IVF will be remembered.
Rose Epstein Frisch
Rose Epstein Frisch was one of the first American scientists to discover how low body fat levels contribute to infertility; this led to Firsch helping with the discovery of leptin through her work in fertility and human development. Leptin is a hormone released by adipose tissue (i.e., body fat) that regulates reproduction. When a person is too lean from excessive exercise or malnutrition, it can contribute to decreased fertility or infertility. Dr. Frisch's innovative studies initiated a chain of discoveries that impact women's health today.
Miriam Menkin was a pioneer in the fertility industry. As a lab technician with an undergraduate degree in histology, and a master’s degree in genetics, Menkin worked with Harvard fertility expert John Rock. Menkin’s goal was to fertilize a human egg in vitro to assist Rock in the first step of helping cure infertility. In 1944 Menkin became the first person to succeed a conceiving human life in a lab.
After six years of working to expose the sperm and egg to each other, Menkin finally observed something remarkable. The cells had joined and were now dividing, enabling her to see the world's first fertilized human embryo outside of the human body.
Dr. Rosalyn Yalow
Dr. Rosalyn Yalow was a nuclear physicist who developed the radioimmunoassay (RIA) method along with Dr. Solomon Berson. The RIA technique measures small amounts of substances in the blood, such as hormones. In 1977 Yalow won a Nobel Prize for her groundbreaking work.
Today the RIA technique is crucial to measuring hormone levels in the bloodstream. Yalow’s work has led to major advancements in diagnosing and treating hormone issues in people with infertility.
These women helped pave the way for millions of people who have embraced IVF as a safe, effective family planning method. If you would like more information about how IVF works or are considering other assisted reproductive technology (ART) methods, contact us today at the Prelude Network. You can ask a question online, call us, or download our free Fertility Guide to learn about the basics of fertility and find out what to expect during your journey.