In 1920, Joseph Bolivar DeLee published the article, “The Prophylactic Forceps Operation,” in which he describes how physicians can manually remove a neonate from a laboring woman’s vagina with the use of sedating drugs and forceps. The procedure, according to DeLee, resulted in decreased rates of complications and mortality for both the woman and neonate. DeLee claimed the procedure could reduce damage to the woman such as prolapse, or when internal pelvic organs push down and sometimes protrude from the vagina, and fatal infant brain bleeding. He also suggested that physicians make an incision from the woman’s anus to vagina to accommodate the use of forceps, a procedure later known as an episiotomy. In “The Prophylactic Forceps Operation,” DeLee proposed the technique and use of his procedure, adding to the growing debate in the early twentieth century on the best way to medically assist women during delivery.
Joseph Bolivar DeLee was an obstetrician in the US between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who advocated for the specialized teaching of medical students in the field of obstetrics to address problems occurring during pregnancy. He claimed obstetricians maintained a wider skillset than midwives, and founded the Chicago Lying-In Hospital to provide affordable obstetric care to women in Chicago, Illinois. According to Carolyn Herbst Lewis, critics of DeLee’s practices often cite his 1920 article, “The Prophylactic Forceps Operation,” as catalyzing a cultural shift toward overly clinical birthing practices. However, rather than solely advocating for its use, he had cautioned against the extreme use of forceps during delivery, and emphasized that obstetricians needed to know the information in the case it could ever save a woman’s life. Though some of DeLee’s philosophies were controversial, such as his disapproval of midwifery, he provided the emerging specialization of obstetrics with new technologies and interventions, cleanliness standards, and the introduction of film as a teaching method.
In 1972, Peter Mazur, Stanley Leibo, and Ernest Chu published, “A Two-Factor Hypothesis of Freezing Injury: Evidence from Chinese Hamster Tissue-culture Cells,” hereafter, “A Two-Factor Hypothesis of Freezing Injury,” in the journal, Experimental Cell Research. In the article, the authors uncover that exposure to high salt concentrations and the formation of ice crystals within cells are two factors that can harm cells during cryopreservation. Cryopreservation is the freezing of cells to preserve them for storage, study, or later use. Mazur originally suggested the two factors in a 1970 paper, but that article was based on evidence from simple yeast cells. By using hamster cells in 1972, Mazur, Leibo, and Chu confirmed that Mazur’s two-factor hypothesis applied to more complex mammalian cells. The article dispelled the widely accepted notion that rapid cooling rates were safest for all cells, and instead showed that each kind of cell had a different optimal cooling rate depending on the solution in which it froze.
Henrietta Lacks, born Loretta Pleasant, had terminal cervical cancer in 1951, and was diagnosed at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where researchers collected and stored her cancer cells. Those cells went on to become the first immortal human cell line, which the researchers named HeLa. An immortal cell line is an atypical cluster of cells that continuously multiply on their own outside of the organism from which they came, often due to a mutation. Lacks’s cancer cells enabled scientists to study human cells outside of the human body, though that was controversial since she did not voluntarily donate her cells for such research. Science writer Rebecca Skloot chronicled Lacks’s life in her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which became a movie in 2017. Lacks’s HeLa cell line has contributed to numerous biomedical research advancements and discoveries and her story has prompted legal and ethical debates over the rights that an individual has to their genetic material and tissue.