Chapter 2 in Dr. Servy’s book
“I was taught the way of progress is neither swift or easy… One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.” Marie Curie – 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics and 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in recognition for her work in radioactivity.
IVF stands for In Vitro Fertilization
It’s a procedure whereby an egg is fertilized by sperm outside the body, in a test tube or a Petri dish. Ovaries produce follicles that are fluid-filled sacs. Each follicle contains one egg or oocyte. During a natural ovulation, a mature egg is released from a dominant follicle. The egg is picked up by the Fallopian tube where it meets the sperm and gets fertilized. In IVF we force the ovaries to grow several follicles in order to increase our chances to obtain more eggs. The first purpose of IVF was to bypass diseased Fallopian tubes due to ectopic pregnancies, malformations or infections.
The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine
In the 1980’s, when a new procedure or a new technique was discovered it was right away shared with the rest of the medical community. We and all contemporary pioneers were not looking for immediate financial rewards. We were only proud to publish and teach our new intellectual or technical findings.
None of our colleagues were talking, as they do now, about a patent when they thought they had come up with something new. For example, it never crossed our mind to hide our way of processing the sperm for IUI or the manufacture of specific catheters. Everything was in the open. The best model of altruism came from the physician who was going to be the father and promoter of IVF in the USA. His name was Dr. Howard Wilbur Jones. He was married to another gynecologist, Dr. Georgiana Jones. We were respectfully calling him “Dr. Howard.” He had been on the faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland since 1940.
During my residency, I visited Johns Hopkins or special gynecological pathology conferences organized by him and his faculty. After Dr. Howard’s mandatory retirement in 1978, he and his wife moved to Norfolk Virginia and they created the “Jones Institute” with the intention of developing an IVF program. He knew very well Bob Edwards, the British embryologist who was at the origin of the first IVF birth in 1978. Bob Edwards spent some time in the laboratory and trained their first embryologist, Lucinda Veeck.
The first American IVF baby was born in 1982.
The first American IVF baby was born in 1982. From then on, the Joneses organized every year in the springtime a medical meeting in Norfolk, on the subject of Assisted Reproduction. The first year we were about 30 participants, the second year about 60, the number of participants doubling every year. Norfolk had become a sort of an American Mecca for Assisted Reproduction. The conferences were excellent and all knowledge was shared with the audience. Another meeting that took place at Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1984 made me decide to open an IVF lab in Augusta. At the meeting, all clinics involved in Assisted Reproduction presented their results. The Jones Institute had a dozen IVF births; Richard Marrs from Los Angeles had two and Martin Quigley from Houston presented one “test-tube baby” birth. Why not in Augusta Georgia? When I spoke to Dr. Howard about my project, he kindly invited two of my assistants and me. We spent three days observing their technique. Everyone at the Jones Institute did everything they could to welcome us and be helpful but we were particularly impressed by Lucinda Veeck’s warm and collegial personality. Obviously, the key to success was in the laboratory. The incubators, culture media, oxygen, CO2, PH and temperature control were very important. We had to be attentive to some minute details that could not be learned in textbooks.
Here I want to draw a parenthesis and tell the story of one of my recent patients who needed IVF. The first day I saw her she admitted to be herself an IVF baby. I looked on the chart at her birth date, “1983” and asked her: “Where were you born?” “Los Angeles.” Then I said: “Your mother’s Doctor was Dr. Richard Marrs. Wasn’t he?” She and her mother who was present were surprised and might have thought for a while that I was a gifted soothsayer. Indeed, she was one of the two first “test-tube babies” born in Los Angeles, the cases that Dr. Marrs presented in Carmel in 1984. Anyway, we were also successful with her and she had twin girls.