When we talk about pioneers of IVF, the two names that immediately spring to mind are Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards
But there is a third person who helped shape the phenomenon that is IVF and that person is Jean Purdy.
She trained as a nurse and was just 23 when she was recruited by Edwards and Steptoe.
Purdy worked as a laboratory nurse with Steptoe and Edwards and is now considered the first ever embryologist.
In 1980 she helped launch the first fertility clinic, Bourn Hall, in Cambridge as its technical director.
She went on to co-write 26 papers on IVF but sadly passed away at just 39 in 1985.
Purdy would never witness the amazing impact of work she did has helped produce eight million babies.
She has never been given the full recognition that she so deserved.
Purdy’s biographer, Professor Roger Gosden of The College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, is published in the British Fertility Society Journal Human Fertility.
Professor Gosden said: “The more I learn about Jean, the more I am in awe of her achievements. She entered the cutting-edge world of fertility science at 23 years old and carved out a vital role for herself. It is a tragedy that she died at 39, just seven years after the first IVF baby was born.”
The British Fertility Society said Purdy’s only previous training was as a nurse and she had a little experience in a laboratory setting, nevertheless she defined the role of the embryologist, developing tasks and processes that are now a standard part of IVF treatments.
A memorial service was recently held to honour Jean and flowers were laid at her grave in Grantchester, in Cambridgeshire by Louise Brown.
The memorial was funded by Bourn Hall Clinic, the Association of Clinical Embryologists and the British Fertility Society along with private donations and is a fitting tribute to the work Jean carried out before she died.
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