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Australian IVF pioneer, Carl Wood, dies aged 82

3 October 2011
Appeared in BioNews 627

The Australian gynaecologist and pioneer of IVF, Professor Carl Wood, has died at the age of 82 after his long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Professor Wood gained considerable international and national attention for his wide-ranging contributions in the field of women's health over a period of almost 50 years, although not all of it was positive given the controversial nature of many of his endeavours.

His former colleague, Professor Gab Kovacs said: 'He was at the forefront of everything, always 10 years ahead of his time'.

The gynaecologist led the team at Monash University in Melbourne that established IVF as a method for the treatment of human infertility during the 1970s. His team, which included stem cell research pioneer Dr Alan Trounson, achieved the world's first clinical IVF pregnancy in 1973, although it did not progress beyond a few days. In 1980, Australia's first 'test tube baby', Candice Reed, was born and three years later, the world's first IVF baby from a frozen embryo arrived.

IVF Australia medical director Professor Peter Illingworth described Professor Wood as a 'visionary' whose team's research had a monumental influence.

Their most important discovery was how to use hormones and drugs to stimulate the ovaries to control egg maturation and collection, a method that transformed IVF into a successful clinical treatment used around the world. The technique has assisted the births of more than 45,000 babies.

While thousands of families celebrated the technique, critics accused Professor Wood of playing God. Despite the criticisms, he was awarded the Commander of the British Empire in 1982 and was made a companion in the order of Australia in 1995. He also received the Axel Munthe international award for reproductive science in 1988. As well as his IVF achievements, Professor Wood helped develop laparoscopic surgical techniques for a range of gynaecological conditions. In 1998 he established the Endometriosis Care Clinic of Australia.

'Carl pioneered the monitoring of babies during labour, which saved many, many lives. He was also one of the first to suggest there was more to women than just their organs and pushed for the introduction of sexual counselling and abortion reform', Professor Kovacs added.

Professor Wood graduated from Melbourne University with degrees in medicine and surgery in 1952 and held positions in the US and London before returning to Melbourne to become Foundation Professor of the Monash University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1964.

Throughout his career, he lectured around the world on subjects such as infertility, fetal care, prenatal life and gynaecological endoscopy. He wrote 23 books and several hundred papers for medical and scientific journals before retiring in 2002. Two years later he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

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