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The death of an IVF legend: Professor Ian Craft, 1937-2019

10 June 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1001

It was with great sadness that the friends and colleagues of 'Prof' Ian Craft learned that he passed away on 3 June at his residential home in Esher. Over his lifetime he helped thousands of couples with infertility achieve a family. 

As a former colleague of Professor Craft, from 1988 to 1992, and a lifelong friend, I knew him as a man who was totally dedicated to the fertility field, who pushed the boundaries and was a true innovator. His intelligence and charm made him one of the most renowned IVF experts. 

Ian published extensively in the early years of his career. In 1976, at the age of 39, Ian was appointed professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Free Hospital in London. In 1977 he started working on IVF with funds donated by Roger Waters from Pink Floyd (he delivered John's daughter, India). 

In 1982 Ian moved to the Cromwell Hospital in west London and then in 1985 to the Humana Hospital in St John's Wood, overlooking Lord's Cricket Ground. I joined his embryology team in 1988 and helped to design the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre, which moved into the beautifully designed Cozens House in Harley Street in 1990. Also at this time, we established the first IVF unit in Dubai. 

Professor Craft was one of the original IVF pioneers. From the start of his career he was always willing to train both scientists and clinicians from around the world, including many who are now global IVF leaders. The Royal Free team achieved the world's first IVF twins in 1982. In 1986, he was responsible for the UK's first GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) babies, and in 1987 for Europe's first donor-egg birth. He was granted the first UK licence to do ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), achieving the UK's first ICSI birth. He was invited to numerous international meetings to discuss his work.

He also did much pioneering work on the drugs used in IVF. Probably the most important was in 1985, with the world's first birth using buserelin, the synthetic analogue of the hormone known as GnRH (gonadotrophin-releasing hormone). Before this breakthrough about a quarter of women would ovulate before they reached the stage of egg collection. Buserlin prevented premature ovulation and enabled the clinic to accurately schedule the timing of the collection. And, importantly, there was an increase in the live birth rate using buserelin.

Professor Craft continuously pushed the boundaries for what he believed in. His practices often hit the press, including early days when he replaced multiple embryos, which sometimes resulted in multiple pregnancies and selective abortion. 

He was dedicated to his field. He worked almost seven days a week, 365 days a year, for almost his whole career. He rarely took a holiday. I was never happy when we did egg collections on Christmas and New Year's Day, but if it was best for the patient, he would do it. Those who worked for him will remember his little white van that he darted around London in, often tucking in behind ambulances to go faster and get through red lights quicker.

Professor Craft was passionate about art, music, opera, ballet and the theatre. He used to take his team to the Proms at the Albert Hall as well as many other events.

After selling his clinic on Harley Street in 2009, Professor Craft suffered several years of illness, but two years ago he had a new lease of life and was able to enjoy a full schedule of visits to dinners, art exhibitions, opera, ballet and the theatre. It was a total pleasure for me to accompany him on many of these occasions. Recently, he was very keen to get in touch with key people who were important to him throughout his life and I was given several lists of people he wanted to contact. I am pleased that he did talk or meet up with many of these people over the past two years.

For my last trip with him, I took him to the Fertility Fest at the Barbican to see Avalanche, the story of a woman's long and unsuccessful fertility journey. It was such a pleasure to be with one of the world leaders in IVF while watching this play. 

Professor Ian Craft made a difference in many people's lives, from the staff he trained and worked with to the patients who he helped. He was the most amazing and intelligent man I have ever met.

He leaves his two brothers and their families, ex-wife Jackie, two sons, Simon and Adrian, and two grandchildren. He was a twin, but his twin sister died in childbirth. 

A memorial to celebrate the life of Professor Craft will be held on Thursday 19 September at St James's Church, Piccadilly at noon.

Joyce Harper, Professor of Reproductive Science, Institute for Women's Health, University College London, is a former colleague of Professor Craft and remained his close friend. 

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