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Pincus, Gregory Goodwin

progesterone studied synthetic fertility

(1903–67) US biologist: introduced the oral contraceptive pill.

Pincus followed in his father’s footsteps by graduating in agriculture at Cornell; his father was a lecturer in the subject. Then he studied genetics and physiology at Cambridge, Berlin and Harvard, and later founded his own consultancy in experimental biology. In 1951 he was influenced by the birth control campaigner Margaret Sanger (1883–1966) to concentrate on reproductive physiology. With M C Chang (1908–91) he studied the anti-fertility effect of steroid hormones (notably progesterone) in mammals, which act by inhibiting ovulation. In this way, refertilization is prevented during pregnancy. Synthetic hormones similar in their effects to progesterone became available in the 1950s, and Pincus saw that they could be used to control fertility. He organized field trials of suitable compounds in Haiti and Puerto Rico in 1954 which were very successful, and oral contraceptives (‘the Pill’) have been widely used ever since. His success is a pharmaceutical rarity–a synthetic chemical agent that is nearly 100% effective, and one that has had remarkable social results.

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