In-Vitro Fertilization

In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) allows eggs to be fertilized outside the womb. In a controlled environment, fertilization is more likely to be successful.

In 1936, In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was first performed on rabbits by Dr. Gregory Pincus of Harvard University. He announced his invention and mentioned it might someday work on humans.

Rather than celebrate the breakthrough, the world was less than ecstatic, envisioning a Frankenstein. Eventually, a public outcry cost him tenure at Harvard and consigned him to become a private researcher where he invented the birth control pill.

Pincus co-invented the birth control pill with John Rock and his lab partner was JC Chang. It’s no coincidence that Chang went on to be the first to perfect an IVF rabbit, essentially copying Pincus’ work minus the hysteria. Rock was the first to extract a human egg, focused on the same type of work Pincus originally targeted.

Despite the breakthrough in human fertility — in-vitro fertilization and birth control pills — none of the men won a Nobel Prize.

Eventually, Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards completed IVF for humans. If they credited Pincus, Rock, or Chang at all they did so quietly.

To their credit, they refused to patent the process. Like the inventors of insulin and antibiotics, they did the opposite, publishing and teaching doctors how to achieve in-vitro fertilization. Their goal was reducing infertility and millions of babies have been born due to IVF. It’s also possible that since Pincus perfected the technique long before, it was ineligible for patent protection.

None of the men died either well-off or destitute. However, none achieved significant financial gain directly from IVF which, as of 2018, costs about $18,000 per attempt in the US.

Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine for his work on IVF. Neither Edwards nor the Nobel committee mention Pincus, Rock, and Chang. They join a list of scientists who made groundbreaking breakthroughs where others gained the recognition. For example, Jonas Salk saved countless lives with his invention of the polio vaccine and was similarly snubbed by the Novel committee.

There are those who suggest antisemitism more than scientific merit played a large role since both Pincus and Salk were both Jewish.

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