Gregory Goodwin Pincus

Gregory Goodwin Pincus

Gregory Goodwin Pincus (April 9, 1903 - August 22, 1967), American biologist and researcher, was co-inventor of the combined oral contraceptive pill.

Birth and education

He was born in Woodbine, New Jersey into a Jewish family, and he credited two uncles, both agricultural scientists, for his interest in research. He went to Cornell University and received a bachelor's degree in agriculture in 1924. He attended Harvard University where he was an instructor in zoology while also working toward his master's and doctorate degrees. From 1927 to 1930 he moved from Harvard to Cambridge University in England to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology with Richard Goldschmidt in Berlin where he performed research. He became an instructor in general physiology at Harvard University in 1930 and was promoted in 1931 to an assistant professor.

Research

Pincus began studying hormonal biology and steroidal hormones early in his career.

Pincus's first breakthrough came early, when he was able to produce in vitro fertilization in rabbits in 1934.

His experiments involving parthenogenesis produced a rabbit that appeared on the cover of Look magazine in 1937 and this and academic politics led to his not being granted tenure at Harvard University.

In 1944, Pincus and Hudson Hoagland founded the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

In 1951, Margaret Sanger met Pincus at a dinner hosted by Abraham Stone, director of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau and medical director and vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), and procured a small grant from PPFA for Pincus to begin hormonal contraceptive research. Pincus, along with Min Chueh Chang, confirmed earlier research that progesterone would act as an inhibitor to ovulation.

In 1952, Sanger told her friend Katharine McCormick about Pincus and Chang's research. Frustrated by PPFA's meager interest and support, in 1953 McCormick and Sanger met with Pincus to dramatically expand the scope of the research with 50-fold increase in funding from McCormick.

In order to prove the safety of "the pill," human trials had to be conducted. These were initiated on infertility patients of Dr. John Rock in Brookline, Massachusetts using progesterone in 1953 and then three different progestins in 1954. Trials of the pill as a contraceptive could not be performed in Massachusetts because dispensing contraception there was a felony. Puerto Rico was selected as a trial site in 1955, in part because there was an existing network of 67 birth control clinics servicing low-income women on the island. Trials began there in 1956 and were supervised by Dr. Edris Rice-Wray. Some of the women experienced side effects from "the pill" (Enovid) and Rice-Wray wrote Pincus and reported that Enovid "gives one hundred percent protection against pregnancy" but causes "too many side reactions to be acceptable". Pincus and Rock disagreed based on their experience with patients in Massachusetts and conducted research showing that placebos caused similar side effects. The trials went on and were expanded to Haiti, Mexico and Los Angeles despite high attrition rates, due to the large number of women eager to try this form of contraception. In May 1960, the FDA extended Enovid's approved indications to include contraception.

Death

He died in 1967 of myeloid metaplasia, a rare blood disease. He was 64 years old and lived in Northboro.

Legacy

Pincus's successes led to Searle introducing the first widely available oral contraceptive ("the pill"). The social, religious, ethical, and medical ramifications of this discovery are still being felt throughout the world, and his discoveries also led to the burgeoning sciences of steroidal hormone research, sex hormone research, and new forms of oncology. Pincus's work may be some of the most influential science of the twentieth century.

References

Further reading

  • Briggs, Laura (2002). Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico. University Of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23258-5.
  • Tone, Andrea (2001). Devices and Desires. New York: Hill and Wang, A Division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. ISBN 0-8090-3817-X.
  • Asbell, Bernard (1995). The Pill. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-43555-7.

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