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Multiple theories about what determines sex were tested at the turn of the twentieth century. By experimenting on germ cells, cytologist Nettie Maria Stevens collected evidence to support the connection between heredity and the sex of offspring. Stevens was able to interpret her data to conclude that chromosomes have a role in sex determination during development. For her time, she was an emerging breed: a woman of science making the leap from the world of data collection to that of male-dominated interpretive work.
Charles Robert Cantor helped sequence the human genome, and he developed methods to non-invasively determine the genes in human fetuses. Cantor worked in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His early research focused on oligonucleotides, small molecules of DNA or RNA. That research enabled the development of a technique that Cantor subsequently used to describe nucleotide sequences of DNA, a process called sequencing, in humans. Cantor was the principal scientist for the Human Genome Project, for which scientists sequenced the entirety of the human genome in 2003.
Dennis Lo, also called Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, is a
professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong,
China. In 1997, Lo discovered fetal DNA in maternal
plasma, which is the liquid component of a pregnant woman's
blood. By 2002, Lo distinguished the DNA differences between pregnant women
and their fetuses, enabling scientists to identify fetal DNA in pregnant
women's blood. Lo used his discoveries to develop several
non-invasive and prenatal genetic tests, including tests for blood
Jeffrey Keenan is the Director of the Southeastern Center for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine and the main developer behind the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, Tennessee. This non-profit organization focuses on embryo donation and embryo adoption.
Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun known for her charitable work and attention to the poor, was born 26 August 1910. The youngest child of Albanian parents Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu, she was christened Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu and spent her early life in the place of her birth, present-day Skopje, in the Republic of Macedonia. In addition to her unwavering devotion to serve the sick and the poor, Mother Teresa firmly defended traditional Catholic teachings on more controversial issues, such as contraception and abortion.
Pope Gregory XIV, born Nicolo Sfondrati, reversed the bull of Pope Sixtus V, Effraenatum, under which an abortion at any time of gestation can be punished by excommunication. He supported the Aristotelian distinction between an "animated" and "unanimated" fetus, making abortion of an unanimated fetus punishable by lesser means. This decision contributed to the historical debates within the Roman Catholic Church on when a fetus has a soul, and when abortion was punishable by excommunication.
Virginia Apgar worked as an obstetrical anesthesiologist, administering drugs that reduce women’s pain during childbirth, in the US in the mid-twentieth century. In 1953, Apgar created a scoring system using five easily assessable measurements, including heart rate and breathing rate, to evaluate whether or not infants would benefit from medical attention immediately after birth. Apgar’s system showed that infants who were previously set aside as too sick to survive, despite low Apgar scores, could recover with immediate medical attention.
Lap-Chee Tsui is a geneticist who discovered the cystic fibrosis (CF) gene, and his research team sequenced human chromosome 7. As the location of the cystic fibrosis gene is now known, it is possible for doctors and specialists to identify in human fetuses the mutation that causes the fatal disease. Tsui's research also outlined the mechanisms for the development of cystic fibrosis, which were previously unknown.
George Nicholas Papanicolaou developed the Pap test in the United States during the twentieth century. The Pap test is a diagnostic procedure used to test for cervical cancer in women. Papanicolaou’s work helped improve the reproductive health of women by providing an effective means of identifying precancerous cells and improving the likelihood of early treatment and survival of cervical cancer.
Harry Hamilton Laughlin helped lead the eugenics
movement in the United States during the early twentieth century.
The US eugenics movement of the early twentieth century sought to
reform the genetic composition of the United States population through
sterilization and other restrictive reproductive measures. Laughlin
worked as superintendent and assistant director of the Eugenics
Research Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold
Spring Harbor, New York, alongside director Charles Davenport.
Albert William Liley advanced the science of fetal physiology and the techniques of life-saving in utero blood transfusions for fetuses with Rh incompatibility, also known as hemolytic disease. Due to his advances, fetuses too young to survive premature delivery, and likely to die in utero if their Rh incompabilities were left untreated, were successfully transfused and carried to term. Liley was as passionate as a clinician and researcher as he was about his views on the rights of the unborn.
Horatio Robinson Storer was a surgeon and anti-abortion activist in the 1800s who worked in the field of women’s reproductive health and led the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the US. Historians credit Storer as being one of the first physicians to distinguish gynecology, the study of diseases affecting women and their reproductive health, as a separate subject from obstetrics, the study of pregnancy and childbirth.
Vincenz Czerny was a surgeon in the nineteenth century who specialized in cancer and women’s surgical care. Czerny performed one of the first breast augmentations using a reconstruction method to correct asymmetry and disfigurement of a woman’s breasts. Additionally, Czerny improved the safety and efficacy of existing operations, such as the vaginal hysterectomy, which involves the surgical removal of some or all of a woman’s reproductive structures. He contributed to other surgeries involving the esophagus, kidneys, and intestines.