German embryologist Viktor Hamburger came to the US in 1932 with a fellowship provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. Hamburger started his research in Frank Rattray Lillie's laboratory at the University of Chicago. His two-year work on the development of the central nervous system (CNS) in chick embryos was crystallized in his 1934 paper, "The Effects of Wing Bud Extirpation on the Development of the Central Nervous System in Chick Embryos," published in The Journal of Experimental Zoology. Hamburger was able to use the microsurgical techniques that he had learned from Hans Spemann to show how wing buds influence the development of the CNS in chick embryos. This paper is one of several among Hamburger's important studies on chick embryos and represents the empirical and theoretical cornerstone for his further research on central-peripheral relations in the development of the nervous system.

An important question throughout the history of embryology is whether the formation of a biological structure is predetermined or shaped by its environment. If both intrinsic and environmental controls occur, how exactly do the two processes coordinate in crafting specific forms and functions? When Viktor Hamburger started his PhD study in embryology in the 1920s, few neuroembryologists were investigating how the central neurons innervate peripheral organs. As Hamburger began his research, he had no clue that central-peripheral relations in the development of the central nervous system (CNS) would become one of his major interests for the next seventy-five years. In fact, this research trajectory would lead him to discover programmed cell death as a pivotal mechanism mediating central-peripheral relations, as well as to Nobel-Prize-winning work on nerve growth factors (NGF).

Viktor Hamburger was an embryologist who focused on neural development. His scientific career stretched from the early 1920s as a student of Hans Spemann to the late 1980s at Washington University resolving the role of nerve growth factor in the life of neurons. Hamburger is noted for his systematic approach to science and a strict attention to detail. Throughout his life he maintained an interest in nature and the arts, believing both were important to his scientific work.

"In vitro Experiments on the Effects of Mouse Sarcomas 180 and 37 on the Spinal and Sympathetic Ganglia of the Chick Embryo" were experiments conducted by Rita Levi-Montalcini in conjunction with Viktor Hamburger and Hertha Meyer and published in Cancer Research in 1954. In this series of experiments, conducted at the University of Brazil, Levi-Montalcini demonstrated increased nerve growth by introducing specific tumors (sarcomas) to chick ganglia. Ganglia are clusters of nerve cells, from which nerve fibers emerge. This work led to the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF) and later the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986.

Epidermal growth factor is a signaling molecule that stimulates the growth of epidermal tissues during development and throughout life. Stanley Cohen discovered epidermal growth factor (EGF) during studies of nerve growth factor as a side effect of other experiments. EGF stimulates tissue growth by initiating a variety of cellular mechanisms. This work led to the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to Cohen and Rita Levi-Montalcini. At the Nobel Award ceremony Levi-Montalcini focused her acceptance speech on nerve growth factor, while Cohen focused his on epidermal growth factor. Although they presented different topics, they were close collaborators and their combined effort led to the discovery of nerve growth factor. They had worked together in Viktor Hamburger's laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, began in 1888 to offer opportunities for instruction and research in biological topics. For the first few years, this meant that individual investigators had a small lab space upstairs in the one wooden building on campus where students heard their lectures and did their research in a common area downstairs. The lectures for those first years offered an overview of general biology with a focus on zoology, and they were intended for teachers and graduate students interested in acquiring the background for teaching about and/or actually doing laboratory work. As the lab quickly grew, it added sets of lectures that made up courses in zoology, then botany, then physiology, and in 1893 what became the first Embryology Course.

In this paper Viktor Hamburger and Rita Levi-Montalcini collaborated to examine the effects of limb transplantation and explantation on neural development. In 1947 Hamburger invited Levi-Montalcini to his lab at Washington University in St. Louis to examine this question. Independently, each had previously arrived at opposing conclusions based on the same data. Hamburger concluded that limb transplantations caused the ganglia to develop more connections and grow larger while Levi-Montalcini concluded that the ganglia first produce a large amount of neurons, then degenerate the unsuccessful neurons. She concluded that larger ganglia must be due to the increase in successful connections. This joint paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology in 1949, corroborated the findings reported by Levi-Montalcini and established that nerve degeneration is an integral part of development.

The General Embryological Information Service (GEIS) was an annual report published by the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht, The Netherlands from 1949 to 1981 that disseminated contemporary research information to developmental biologists. The purpose of the annual report was to catalog the names, addresses, and associated research of every developmental biologist in the world. Pieter Nieuwkoop edited each issue from 1949 until 1964, when Job Faber began assisting Nieuwkoop. Bert Z. Salome joined the editing team in 1968 before Nieuwkoop ceased editing duties in 1971. Faber and Salome remained the editors from 1971 until the periodical's final year of circulation in 1981. The Hubrecht Laboratory, a national laboratory created to house a large collection of comparative embryological materials and loan them to interested researchers, sponsored the publication after World War II to facilitate international collaboration and prevent unnecessary duplication of work. The catalog of researchers and the scientific topics grew in number and variety as the field of developmental biology changed during the publication's thirty-two year history.