Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On Synthesizing the Birth Control Pill

On Synthesizing the Birth Control Pill: Pictured above is Gregory Pincus, co-inventor of the birth control pill. As a Harvard-educated Jewish-American biologist, Pincus designed his hormone therapy experiments on previous research regarding menstrual disorders. Such research had been conducted in the 1930s, when organic chemists discovered how to synthesize hormones like progesterone from naturally occurring plant steroids. One of Pincus' main goals with his experiments was to reduce significantly menstrual discomfort by preventing ovulation altogether. Considered too controversial for Harvard in the 1950s, he moved his research to Central Massachusetts in an effort to attract private funding. It worked, as Pincus met Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who was certainly interested in funding his research. He then elicited the help of Catholic gynecologist John Rock to conduct clinical trials on women with small doses of synthetic estrogen and progesterone. And in May 1960, the FDA approved the combined oral contraceptive pill (Enovid) for use with 10 mg doses. But there were serious side effects associated with these early pills, as blood clots (and birth defects) became the two primary consequences of suppressing ovulation with synthetic hormones.

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