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Sex Determination in Humans

In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins.

In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Processes

Ann Trow (Madame Restell) (1812–1878)

Self-proclaimed female physician Ann Trow was a women’s reproductive health specialist as well as an abortion provider in New York City, New York during the mid 1800s. Though she had no formal medical training or background, Trow provided women with healthcare and abortions under the alias Madame Restell. Restell gained attention across the United States for her career as a professional abortionist during a time when abortions were highly regulated and punishable with imprisonment. Restell was tried numerous times for carrying out abortions.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Jan Evangelista Purkyne (1787-1869)

Jan Evangelista Purkyne, also called Johannes or Johann Evangelist Purkinje, studied cells in the cerebellum, fibers of the heart, subjective visual phenomenon, and germinal vesicle, in eastern Europe during the early nineteenth century. His investigations provided insights into various mechanisms and structures of the human body. Purkyne introduced techniques for decalcification of bones and teeth, embedding of tissue specimens, and eye examinations.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Passing of the Great Race; or The Racial Basis of European History (1916), by Madison Grant

In 1916, eugenicist Madison Grant published the book The Passing of the Great Race; or The Racial Basis of European History, hereafter The Passing of the Great Race, where he claimed that northern Europeans, or Nordics, are biologically and culturally superior to the rest of humanity. Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York City, New York, published the volume. Grant claimed that the Nordic race was at risk of extinction and advocated for the creation of laws in the US to decrease the population of people he considered inferior.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Patrick Christopher Steptoe (1913-1988)

Patrick Christopher Steptoe was a British gynecologist responsible for major advances in gynecology and reproductive technology. Throughout his career Steptoe promoted laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgical technique that allows a view inside the abdominal cavity, successfully advancing its usefulness in gynecology. After partnering with embryologist Robert Edwards in 1966, the pair performed the first in vitro fertilization in humans.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)

Henry Havelock Ellis was born on 2 February 1859 at Croydon in Surrey, England, to Susannah Wheatley Ellis and Edward Peppen Ellis, a sea captain. A psychologist, essayist, and physician, he is best known for his contributions to the study of human sexuality and his support of sex education and women's rights. Ellis 's work catalyzed the revolution against repressive Victorian views of sexuality.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Dissertation: A Fetus By Any Other Name: How Words Shaped the Fetal Personhood Movement in US Courts and Society (1884-1973)

The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was a significant event in the story of fetal personhood—the story of whether embryos and fetuses are legal persons. Roe legalized abortion care in the United States (US). However, the story of fetal personhood began long before the 1970s. People have been talking about embryos, fetuses, and their status in science, the law, and society for centuries.

Format: Essays and Theses

Subject: Reproduction, Ethics, Legal

John Hunter (1728–1793)

John Hunter studied human reproductive anatomy, and in eighteenth century England, performed one of the earliest described cases of artificial insemination. Hunter dissected thousands of animals and human cadavers to study the structures and functions of organ systems. Much of his anatomical studies focused on the circulatory, digestive, and reproductive systems. He helped to describe the exchange of blood between pregnant women and their fetuses. Hunter also housed various natural collections, as well as thousands of preserved specimens from greater than thirty years of anatomy work.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Edward Charles Dodds (1899-1973)

Edward Charles Dodds researched the function and effects of natural and artificial hormones on the endocrine system in England during the twentieth century. Though he first worked with hormones such as insulin, Dodds focused on the effects of estrogen in the body and how to replicate those effects with artificial substances. In 1938, along with chemist Robert Robinson, Dodds synthesized the first synthetic estrogen called diethylstilbestrol.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Marshall Henry Klaus (1927–2017)

Marshall Henry Klaus was a scientist and pediatrician who studied maternal-infant bonding in the twentieth century in the United States. Maternal-infant bonding is the psychological and chemical attachment between mother and infant. Klaus cofounded DONA International, an organization that trains birthing aides, called doulas, to provide physical and emotional support to laboring mothers. He also studied the differences between the layouts and quality of care provided in nurseries and birthing centers in different countries and compared them to those found in the United States.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act (1921)

In November 1921, US Congress passed the National Maternity and Infancy Protection Act, also called the Sheppard-Towner Act. The Act provided federal funds to states to establish programs to educate people about prenatal health and infant welfare. Advocates argued that it would curb the high infant mortality rate in the US.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Outreach

Calvin Blackman Bridges (1889-1938)

Calvin Blackman Bridges studied chromosomes and heredity in the US throughout the early twentieth century. Bridges performed research with Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University in New York City, New York, and at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Bridges and Morgan studied heredity in Drosophila, the common fruit fly. Throughout the early twentieth century, researchers were gathering evidence that genes, or what Gregor Mendel had called the factors that control heredity, are located on chromosomes.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Development of Mifepristone for Use in Medication Abortions

In the 1980s, researchers at the pharmaceutical company Roussel-Uclaf in Paris, France, helped develop a biological compound called mifepristone. When a woman takes it, mifepristone interferes with the function of hormones involved in pregnancy and it can therefore be used to terminate pregnancies. In 2000, the US Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone, also called RU 486, as part of a treatment to induce abortions using drugs instead of surgery, a method called medication abortion.

Format: Articles

Subject: Reproduction

"Pregnancy Complicating Diabetes" (1949), by Priscilla White

In 1949, Priscilla White published Pregnancy Complicating Diabetes, which described the results and implications of a fifteen-year study about pregnant diabetic women. Published in the American Journal of Medicine, the article details possible causes of and ways to prevent the high fetal mortality rate associated with pregnant diabetic women. Diabetes is a disease in which the body's ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, and it can be particularly dangerous during pregnancies.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Wilhelm Ludvig Johannsen (1857-1927)

Wilhelm Ludvig Johannsen studied plants and helped found the field of genetics, contributing methods and concepts to the study of heredity around the turn of the twentieth century in Denmark. His experiments on heredity and variation in plants influenced the methods and techniques of geneticists, and his distinction between the genotype of an organism-its hereditary disposition-and its phenotype-its observable characteristics-remains at the core of contemporary biology. Johannsen criticized biological explanations that relied on concepts such as vitalism and teleology.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Endothelium

The endothelium is the layer of cells lining the blood vessels in animals. It weighs more than one kilogram in adult humans, and it covers a surface area of 4000 to 7000 square meters. The endothelium is the cellular interface between the circulating blood and underlying tissue. As the medium between these two sets of tissues, endothelium is part of many normal and disease processes throughout the body.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Theories

William Thornton Mustard (1914-1987)

William Thornton Mustard was a surgeon in Canada during the twentieth century who developed surgical techniques to treat children who had congenital heart defects. Mustard has two surgeries named after him, both of which he helped to develop. The first of these surgeries replaces damaged or paralyzed muscles in individuals who have polio, a virus that can cause paralysis. The other technique corrects a condition called the transposition of the great arteries (TGA) that is noticed at birth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Disorders, Disorders

Laparoscopy

Laparoscopy, a subfield of endoscopy, is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to examine and operate on the internal organs of the abdomen through a small incision in the abdominal wall. The term "laparoscopy" is derived from two Greek words: laparo, meaning the soft space between hips and ribs, and skopie, meaning to examine. Today laparoscopy has broad clinical applications including for diagnosis, fertility procedures, visual representation, and surgery.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies, Reproduction

Agent Orange as a Cause of Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the spines of developing fetuses and infants, and research in the 20th century indicated that chemicals in the herbicide Agent Orange likely lead to the birth defect. People with spina bifida can have nerve damage, paralysis, and mental disabilities. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the US military employed Agent Orange and other herbicides to destroy enemy crops and forest cover until 1970.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders

Stanley Cohen (1922- )

Stanley Cohen is a biochemist who participated in the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF). He shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rita Levi-Montalcini for their work on the discovery of growth factors. His work led to the discovery of many other growth factors and their roles in development.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Leo Loeb (1869-1959)

Leo Loeb developed an experimental approach to studying cancer and pioneered techniques for tissue culture and in vitro tissue transplantation which impacted early-to-mid twentieth century experimental embryology. Loeb received his medical degree from the University of Zurich in 1897. As part of his doctorate, he completed a thesis on the outcomes of tissue transplantation in guinea pigs. Loeb's thesis inspired a life-long interest in tissue transplantation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Sex-determining Region Y in Mammals

The Sex-determining Region Y (Sry in mammals but SRY in humans) is a gene found on Y chromosomes that leads to the development of male phenotypes, such as testes. The Sry gene, located on the short branch of the Y chromosome, initiates male embryonic development in the XY sex determination system. The Sry gene follows the central dogma of molecular biology; the DNA encoding the gene is transcribed into messenger RNA, which then produces a single Sry protein.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Edgar Allen (1892–1943)

Edgar Allen identified and outlined the role of female sex hormones and discovered estrogen in the early 1900s in the US. In 1923, Allen, through his research with mice, isolated the primary ovarian hormone, later renamed estrogen, from ovarian follicles and tested its effect through injections in the uterine tissues of mice. Allen’s work on estrogen, enabled researchers to further study hormones and the endocrine system.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

First American Birth Control Clinic (The Brownsville Clinic), 1916

On 16 October 1916, Margaret Sanger opened one of the first birth control clinics in the United States in Brooklyn, New York, which some have called the Brownsville Clinic. Located at 46 Amboy Street, the clinic was a place where Sanger and her staff verbally communicated with women seeking information about birth control. During the early 1900s, both birth control and abortion were illegal in the US, and publication or circulation of information on both topics was deemed obscene and illegal by the federal Comstock Act.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations

Charles Benedict Davenport (1866-1944)

Charles Benedict Davenport was an early twentieth-century experimental zoologist. Davenport founded both the Station for Experimental Evolution and the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor in New York. Though he was a talented statistician and skilled scientist, Davenport's scientific achievements are eclipsed by his lasting legacy as the scientific leader of the eugenics movement in the US.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction