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IVF pioneer John Biggers dies at 93

16 April 2018
Appeared in BioNews 945

Professor John Biggers, a founding figure in the culture of embryos and in reproductive medicine, has died at the age of 93. 

Professor Biggers' research in early embryo culture and metabolism laid the foundations for clinical IVF. With the late Professor Anne McLaren, Professor Biggers published a landmark paper on the birth of mice that had been successfully cultured as early embryos in vitro in Nature in 1958.

Professor Henry Leese at the University of York has described this as 'one of the most significant papers in the history of reproductive biology and medicine', in a 2014 paper marking Professor Biggers' 90th birthday. Professor Biggers was 'a pivotal figure in the history of mammalian early embryo culture and metabolism', said Professor Leese.

After studying for his undergraduate degree at the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine, Professor Biggers earned his PhD from the University of London in mammalian physiology. He then worked primarily in the USA, as well as Australia and the UK in a career spanning 70 years. Professor Biggers was President of the Society of Reproduction, and won the Pioneer Award of the International Embryo Transfer Society and Marshall Medal of the Society for the Study of Fertility.

Beyond his academic research, Professor Biggers advised on high-level IVF and embryo transfer policy. He acted as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ethics Committee at the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and was a representative for the World Health Organization. 

As well as pursuing his own research, Professor Biggers mentored many of the scientists who went on to be leading figures in reproductive biology. He was described as 'tireless' mentor with a 'collegial unselfish commitment' to research by professors David Albertini and Lynda McGinnis of the University of Kansas in another celebratory paper for his 90th birthday. 

'John has always been a scientific hero to me,' his colleague Professor Monika Ward of the University of Hawaii added in the paper. 'And upon meeting him in person, this feeling was only reinforced by discovering that he is not only a great scientist but also a wonderful human being.'

A catalyst for change in reproductive science: John D. Biggers as a mentor’s mentor
Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics |  1 August 2013
John Biggers
Human Fertility |  18 June 2014
John D. Biggers
Current Obituary |  14 April 2018
Successful Development and Birth of Mice cultivated in vitro as Early Embryos
Nature |  27 September 1958
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