March is Women’s History Month, and more specifically, March 8th celebrates International Women’s Day. This day honors women’s social, economic, and cultural accomplishments, and this year’s theme is DigitALL: Innovation and Technology For Gender Equality.
In many ways, technological innovation is at the very heart of our field. As we’ve worked to advance assisted reproduction technology (ART), it’s no surprise that our clinical success rates for IVF have doubled over the decades with new technological advances. Many early scientific advances came at the hands of innovative women. Check out just a few of the amazing STEAM pioneering women who made lasting contributions to our field of reproductive medicine.
Women Who Advanced the Fertility Medicine Field
Miriam Menkin (August 1901 – June 1992)
Miriam Menkin was a researcher working closely with Dr. John Rock, studying IVF. In 1944 (and the six years prior) she worked on trying to fertilize extracted eggs with sperm. Per protocol she washed samples three times and exposed them to eggs for 30 minutes.
During a sleepless night (thanks to her teething eight–month–old daughter, she later admitted), Miriam only washed the sperm sample once and fell asleep while they interacted for one hour. She observed that one of the eggs had been fertilized, leading them to publish “in Vitro Fertilization and Cleavage of Human Ovarian Eggs”, which paved the way for fertilization outside the body. A reminder that life success is about being good and, sometimes, lucky!
Jean Purdy (April 1945 – March 1985)
Jean Purdy was the world’s first clinical embryologist and co-founder of the British Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic in 1980. Working alongside surgeons Dr. Robert Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who in 1968 used a laparoscopic procedure to retrieve an egg to fertilize with sperm in a laboratory, Jean developed many of the embryology laboratory techniques used in IVF treatments today.
Ten years later, she was the first person to observe the division of embryonic cells of Louise Joy Brown, the first person born from IVF on July 25, 1978. Jean went on to co-author more than 25 papers, and 370 children were conceived using IVF during her career.
Ruth Fowler Edwards (December 1930 – October 2013)
Ruth Fowler studied biology and genetics and worked closely with her husband, Dr. Robert Edwards, to discover ways to increase the number of eggs harvested at one time in adult female mice. She used various hormones to induce ovulation and, in doing so, was able to prove that superovulation was possible for adult women.
During her career, she published many papers on her works on the growth of human embryos in the lab and the genetics of early human development. On top of her dedication to science and reproductive medicine, she was also a mother of 5.
Acknowledging Women’s Advancements in Medicine
During their lives, the above-accomplished women weren’t recognized for their contributions to science or reproductive medicine. In contrast, it was common for their male counterparts to receive accolades and distinguished awards.
However, these women and others in the field have not only contributed to the advances we enjoy in reproductive medicine today, but they also paved the way for other women, like myself, to pursue an interest in traditionally male-dominated STEAM professions. Let us recognize their amazing accomplishments and share their names with others during women’s history month.
See what we were up to at OC Fertility ad OC Biogenix on International Women’s Day!
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