Remembering Jean Purdy, the 'forgotten' female IVF pioneer

20/07/2018

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Forty years on, the world's first 'test-tube' baby Louise Brown has honoured the first clinical embryologist.

Jean Marian Purdy is almost forgotten as one of the British trio that introduced clinical IVF to the world. Working alongside physiologist Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, Jean became the world’s first embryologist for the first-ever ‘test tube’ baby – Louise Brown, who turns 40 on 25 July this year.

Before her premature death in 1985, aged 39, Jean saw over 500 babies conceived following successful IVF at Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic; as Technical Director, Jean helped turn the science into a robust medical treatment.

Her great contribution to medicine has at last been recognised with a memorial service and blessing of a new headstone in the presence of Jean’s family, friends and colleagues. Louise laid flowers on behalf of all those who have benefited from Jean’s work.

Jean was co-author on 26 academic papers about IVF between 1970-1985 including Nature and The Lancet and her contribution was recognised by fellow IVF pioneers Bob Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. At a lecture to an audience of specialists on the 20th anniversary of clinical IVF, Edwards announced, "There were three original pioneers in IVF not just two".

Louise Brown, the world's first IVF baby, who celebrates her 40th birthday on Wednesday 25 July, said:

"My mum always talked about Jean and said she was an unsung hero and that without her IVF babies may never have been a reality.

"Jean kept in touch after I was born and wrote to mum telling her about the plans to open an IVF clinic at Bourn Hall. All the women in Oldham involved in those early days knew Jean, who kept their spirits up through difficult times. I was pleased to represent my mum in unveiling the new memorial."

The memorial was funded by Bourn Hall Clinic, the Association of Clinical Embryologists and the British Fertility Society along with private donations. It is located in Grantchester churchyard, where Jean and her mother are buried.

Read more on the Bourn Hall website.

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