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John D. Biggers

1923 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
John D. Biggers Obituary
John D Biggers, PhD, DSc Professor Emeritus, Harvard Medical School died peacefully on Saturday, April 7th, 2018 at Brookhaven in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA. John Biggers was a world-renowned reproductive physiologist whose research spanned 70 years and three continents. He was born in Reading, England in 1923. After training at the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine, he specialized in mammalian physiology, earning his PhD from the University of London. He went on to work at the University of Sydney (Australia), before returning to England in 1955 as a fellow at St. Johns College, Cambridge University. In 1958, while a senior lecturer at University College of London, he and his colleague Anne McClaren (later bestowed Dame by Queen Elizabeth II) published their landmark paper in Nature, reporting the first successful growth of an early mouse embryo in culture media. This pioneering work contributed to the eventual establishment of human in vitro fertilization (IVF), and the birth of over five million children in the past two generations. Soon after that, Dr. Biggers emigrated to the United States, working at the University of Pennsylvania as a Professor of Reproductive Physiology, then moving to John Hopkins University in 1967, and then Harvard Medical School in 1972. Dr. Biggers was dearly loved by his many students and research colleagues and became a mentor to many of the current leaders in the field of reproductive biology. His labs at U Penn, Hopkins and Harvard were all considered to be highly supportive training grounds for young researchers. He not only encouraged, but expected, independent thinking and the pursuit of original ideas. He was also very supportive of his researchers going on to develop their own labs and research groups. In the 1960s, Dr. Biggers, along with Drs. Wes Whitten and David Whittingham, developed the BWW medium, a highly successful medium for mouse fertilization and embryo growth. Later, working with Dr. Joel Lawitts, Dr. BIggers developed newer culture media that later led to Global medium, one of the most popular mediums used in human IVF today. In the 1970s Dr. Biggers was appointed by the Carter administration to be the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ethics Advisory Board of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and he participated in hearings on the ethics of IVF and embryo transfer, He testified before the US Senate on this topic. He also served as a consultant to the World Health Organization, often travelling to Pakistan and Bangladesh to consult on contraceptive rese- arch in developing countries. Dr. Biggers was past president of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, and served as Editor in Chief of Biology of Reproduction and Associate Editor for several other journals as well. He authored over 250 scientific papers during his career, in addition to numerous chap- ters for textbooks. Dr Biggers received many honors for his contributions to science including the Carl G. Hartman Award of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, the Pioneer Award from the International Embryo Transfer Society, the Marshall Medal of the Society for the Study of Fertility (England), and the Bedford Research Foundation Award for Innovation in Science. In 2017, at the age of 93, he and co-author Carol Kountz, published a biography of Walter Heape, a 19th century researcher in embryology, and only three months ago, in January 2018, he and Dr. Catherine Racowsky (Dir- ector of the Brigham and Womens IVF Lab) completed the introductory chapter of the soon-to-be published book In Vitro Fertilization: The Pioneers History. As Catherine has remarked John was remarkable in his zest for life, his love of science and his intrigue with the mammalian reproductive system. John had many hobbies as well. He was an avid cook, a knowledgeable naturalist and gardener, a self-taught pianist, and an accomplished nature photographer. HIs thirst for adventure and knowledge led him all over the world to all continents including Antarctica. John leaves behind his close friend, Barbara Cheresh. He survived his second wife and companion of 35 years, Betsey Williams, and leaves behind: one sister, Jeanne Brook of Devon, England, and her extended family; three children from his first wife, Joan Biggers (nee Cobbold), and their spouses, David Biggers (Kathleen OConnell) of Canton, MA, Philippa Biggers (Robert Salzman) of Wellesley, MA, and Jennifer Biggers Wasserman (Peter Wasserman) of Hopkinton, NH; four stepchildren and their spouses: Peter Hess (Natalie Mahowald) of Ithaca, NY, Paul Hess (Katherine Childs) of Toronto, Ont, Rick Colbath-Hess (Chris Colbath-Hess) of Cambridge, MA and David Hess (Andrea Khan) of New York, NY; nine grandchildren: Rebecca, Madeline, and Nicola Salzman, Megan, Jason, and Katie Wasserman and Samuel, William, and Daniel Biggers, six step grandchildren Jacob and Sophie Colbath-Hess, Elias and Alan Hess-Childs, and Rowan and Linden Hess; and a great grandchild, Kiran Pollock. He will be sorely missed by his friends and family. A memorial service and reception will be held at Brookhaven, 1010 Waltham St, Lexington MA, Sunday, April 22 at 3 pm; parking at Lexington Lodge (959 Waltham St); accepting donations in lieu of flowers to: Planned Parenthood or to the Arnold Arboretum.
Published in The Lexington Minuteman from Apr. 17 to Apr. 26, 2018
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