Test Tube Babies
Timeline: Human Reproduction Research and In Vitro Fertilization

1827 - 1962 | 1965 - 2004  


Scientists first learn that the female body contains eggs, called ova (plural; the word for one egg is ovum).


Ovum and sperm drawing. Scientists discover that conception takes place when a sperm from the male reproductive system enters an ovum.


Dr. J. Marion Sims May: The Woman's Hospital opens in New York. Its chief doctor, J. Marion Sims, believes that most infertility can be cured through gynecological surgery, but he agrees to perform artificial insemination in those women who refuse surgical methods. Fifty-five times over a two-year period, Sims injects a husband's sperm into his wife's uterus, but his experiments result in only one pregnancy that ends in miscarriage.


Edward H. Clarke. The book Sex in Education, written by Harvard doctor Edward Clarke, argues that having a college education contributes to sterility among young women.


As the field of medicine is increasingly professionalized, the American Gynecological Society is formed; Sims is one of its founders.


In the first recorded case of artificial insemination by donor, Philadelphia physician William Pancoast treats a couple's infertility by injecting sperm from a medical student into the woman while she is under anesthesia; she gives birth to a boy nine months later. Pancoast never tells the woman what he has done, and only shares the information with her husband several years later.


March 24: Future infertility doctor John Rock is born in Massachusetts.


Surgeon Robert Tuttle Morris, who has been conducting partial "ovarian transplantations" from healthy women to those unable to have children, witnesses the first (and only) successful pregnancy in a recipient.


When an account of Pancoast's actions involving artificial insemination by donor appears in the Medical World journal, 25 years after it originally took place, the doctor is strongly criticized.

November 21: Future in vitro fertilization (IVF) researcher Landrum Brewer Shettles is born.


Howard Jones, whose work with wife Georgeanna in the field of IVF will lead to America's first "test tube baby," is born in Baltimore. Coincidentally, Georgeanna's father is the obstetrician who delivers Howard.

Theodore Roosevelt, and children. Former president Theodore Roosevelt declares, "The greatest of all curses is the curse of sterility; and the severest of all condemnations should be ... visited upon willful sterility."


July 6: Future IVF pioneer Georgeanna Jones is born.


September 10: John Del-Zio, who with his wife will become the first American couple to seek IVF treatment, is born.


Principally funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex is founded and spends much of the next 20 years supporting research in the field of reproductive endocrinology (the study of reproductive hormones), as well as the human sexuality research of Dr. Alfred Kinsey.


Free hospital for women. Rock, who has graduated from Harvard Medical School, opens an infertility clinic at the Free Hospital for Women in Brookline, Massachusetts.


Scientists identify the ovarian hormone progesterone, which plays a key role in pregnancy. A year later the sex hormone estrogen is also identified.


Aldous Huxley. Aldous Huxley's futurist novel Brave New World is published; it depicts a bleak society populated by test tube babies and shapes public perceptions of the subject.


Gregory Pincus with rabbit. Harvard scientist Gregory Pincus conducts IVF experiments involving rabbits that suggest similar fertilization is possible in humans. Pincus is denounced for his work, and Harvard denies him tenure.


Miriam Menkin and Family An unsigned editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by John Rock, praises the possibilities of IVF: "What a boon for the barren woman with closed tubes!" A year later Rock decides to attempt such fertilization in humans, hiring Pincus' former technician Miriam Menkin as a research assistant.


November: Doris Del-Zio, who will become part of the first American IVF attempt, is born.


In the six years since beginning their experiments, Rock and Menkin have collected some 800 ova and tried unsuccessfully to fertilize 138 of them. Between February and April, however, Menkin allows the egg and sperm to remain in contact for a longer period and succeeds in fertilizing four ova. This marks the first successful IVF of human eggs. Rock and Menkin do not attempt to implant the fertilized eggs in a woman. The published account of the research generates great interest.


Pope Pius XII condemns any fertilization of human eggs outside the body, declaring that those who do so "take the Lord's work into their own hands." Despite Catholic Church resistance, the number of infertility clinics in the United States soars in the postwar era.


The Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center - 1969. Physician Landrum Shettles duplicates the Rock-Menkin experiments at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.


An Illinois court rules that babies conceived through artificial insemination by donor (AID) are legally illegitimate. Most other states reject this conclusion. By 1960 some 50,000 babies have been born as a result of AID.


Shettles in front of wall with photos of fertilized eggs. Shettles publishes Ovum Humanum, a book containing some of the more than 1,000 photographs he has taken of human eggs as they develop.


Italian scientist Daniele Petrucci claims to have successfully fertilized 40 eggs and grown one embryo in the laboratory for 29 days (by which point it had developed a heartbeat) before destroying it. Although other scientists are skeptical of Petrucci's claim, the Vatican takes him at his word and denounces the experiment as "sacrilegious."


Shettles will later claim that in this year he transplanted a fertilized egg into a woman's uterus, resulting in a pregnancy. If true, this would be a landmark event, but Shettles' claim is never substantiated.

1827 - 1962 | 1965 - 2004  

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