Rediscover STEAM
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Rediscover STEAM

Jean Purdy, Nurse & Embryologist

Discarded, annulled, and obscured, the tribulations and triumphs of Jean Purdy have been long dismantled by the patriarchy and further disparaged from accreditation in unraveling one of the most revolutionizing and prolific revelations within the scientific spectra. However, with extensive years of biases domineering over history, both Purdy’s life and variegated accomplishments still prevail within the penumbra of ambiguity and obscurity, despite several institutions beginning to enlighten others and salvage her fruitful contributions to the science domain.

Jean Marian Purdy, trailblazing nurse and proficient embryologist, was born on April 25, 1945 in Cambridge, England. Born to unidentifiable parents, Purdy was well acclimated with premium eminence education, wherein her enrollment within Cambridgeshire High School for Girls was believed to have prompted the preliminary origins of her scientific proclivities. Bolstered with quality education, Purdy manifested herself rather emblematically and with great esteem, from her distinguished position as the institution’s long-standing prefect, an all-star sports player, and even a prominent violinist within the school’s ensemble. However, despite equilibrated productivity within both academic and artistic spectrums, Purdy chose to allocate her pursuits towards science, wherein she triumphantly established her registration as a nurse prior to laboring under Southampton General Hospital. Unfortunately, Purdy and the hospital’s work ethics and climate conflicted, and she transferred to a local facility and proceeded to produce abundant research and investigations revolving around tissue rejection.

Upon completion, Purdy sought out for alternate prospects, from working at Papworth Hospital to subsequently being employed and taken under the wing by Robert Edwards at Cambridge’s Physiological Laboratory. Deeply archived within historical records, the alliance between three (not two!) scientists comprising Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe, and Jean Purdy were unraveled to have pioneered, spearheaded, and effectuated in vitro fertilization (IVF), leading subsequently to the first successful conception of the test tube baby. Described to be of great resilience and perseverance, Jean Purdy worked in close proximity with Edwards and Steptoe as they continued to hypothesize on plausible prospects and techniques, of which may be employed to treat infertility as a result of internal/external damage or blockage within the fallopian tubes.

From here, Purdy alongside Edwards and Steptoe conducted experimental researches, conclusively reaching an investigation on having physically extract mature eggs from the ovaries and combining them with sperm cells to be fertilized, applying the in vitro methodology, or simply the “in glass” technique, before re-injecting them within the uterus upon completing fertilization. Purdy eventually became one of the first individuals to witness the formation of a human blastocyst in vitro, describing how the blastocyst becomes composed of both inner cell mass (ICM) or embryoblast alongside an external layer of cells referred to as the trophoblast.

Purdy further described witnessing how the trophoblast surrounds the inner cell mass and fluid-filled blastocyst cavity referred to as the blastocoele, despite being submerged in a culture system. Purdy herself also attested to witnessing the first ever embryonic cell division, prior to then dividing and multiplying in quantity to form the human blastocyst’s inner cell mass. Purdy, Edwards, and Steptoe’s triumph became in pursuit as this experimental embryonic development was eventually attributed to the births of Louise Brown and Alastair MacDonald. Their venture continued to prevail, as they sought out for alternate locations and domains to expand and broaden the intellectual horizons of their research. This eventually led to Purdy’s establishment of Bourn Hall, previously functioning as a manor house within Cambridge to one of the most productive IVF clinics today.

Purdy’s endeavor was unfortunately cut short due to her calamitous death from her malignant melanoma diagnosis that terminated any plausibility of her being awarded with the Nobel Prize. Yet, despite implorations and requests imposed by Edwards and Steptoe, scarcely any recognition was endowed posthumously to Purdy. Her untimely death on March, 16 1985 was truly tragic by nature, as neither accreditation nor homage surpassed her, and hence she continued to remain in the penumbra of the IVF discovery. Even within the most diminutive of credits, Jean Purdy still prevails to remain obscured to the IVF revelation, despite her legacies of Bourn Hall Clinic and her immense expertise in distinguishing the physical phase transitions from embryonic cells to blastocystis in vitro.

Silenced and disparaged, Jean Purdy was never able to remark on her injustices and immensely arbitrary treatment by institutions today as her legacies were never truly expounded and were limited purely by patronizing institutions. Yet, voices from the margins experience resurgence today as many including science’s very own pioneers, debunk the patriarchy and salvage her reputation for good.

by Brianna Renatte Titiheruw

Inspiration

Having been intrigued with embryonic sciences myself, Jean Purdy’s rather opaque yet unwaveringly triumphant success within the field stemmed as the foundational grassroots of the field’s eventual expansion, development, and esteem. Prior to Purdy’s revolutionizing revelations within embryonic sciences, this particular branch was so frequently discarded and vilified as a rather superficial department which only accommodated minimal expansion in its findings, revelations, and other discoveries. However, as Purdy sought out to establish more “progressive” prospects to the field, embryonic sciences eventually received its much necessitated validation and was acclaimed as one of the most integral branches of which aid in disseminating more scientifically viable and ethical methodologies alongside techniques to highway the circle of life.

Jean Purdy’s prevail in attesting to one of the elementary discoveries of in vitro fertilization is deeply rooted at the core of how instrumental and integral women are within breaking boundaries and in contributing to both tangible and intangible aspects of scientific discoveries. Jean Purdy’s unique endeavor to recognition is one of the most inspiring facets that truly induced myself to recite her biographical report, as her profoundly revolutionary intellect and expertise in embryonic sciences distinguished her and enabled her male colleagues to perceive her as an equal, and not as a trivialized assistant.

References

Halliday, Josh. “Female Nurse Who Played Crucial Role in IVF Ignored on Plaque.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 June 2019, www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/10/jean-purdy-female-nurse-who-played-crucial-role-in-ivf-ignored-on-plaque?ref=hvper.com. Accessed August 3, 2020

“Jean Purdy: Plaque Will Honour ‘Snubbed’ IVF Pioneer.” BBC News, BBC, 8 July 2019, www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-48908916. Accessed August 3, 2020

“Jean Purdy’s Overlooked Contribution to IVF.” Revista Pesquisa Fapesp, July 2019, revistapesquisa.fapesp.br/en/jean-purdys-overlooked-contribution-to-ivf/. Accessed August 3, 2020

Magra, Iliana. “Three Created a Fertility Revolution With I.V.F., but One, a Woman, Went Unrecognized.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 June 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/europe/jean-purdy-ivf-plaque.html. Accessed August 3, 2020

Russell, Sam. “Woman Who Helped Pioneer IVF Left off Commemorative Plaque despite Protest.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 10 June 2019, www.independent.co.uk/news/health/ivf-test-tube-baby-jean-purdy-plaque-cambridge-university-a8950986.html. Accessed August 3, 2020

says:, Helen Sharpe. “Jean Purdy — the Forgotten IVF Pioneer.” Science Museum Blog, 19 July 2018, blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/jean-purdy-the-forgotten-ivf-pioneer/. Accessed August 3, 2020

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