Georgeanna Seegar Jones (1912–2005) was a pioneering reproductive endocrinologist (someone who studies glands). Along with her husband, Jones did the first in-vitro fertilization in the United States. From that day she and her husband became known for helping thousands of women who could not otherwise become pregnant to carry their offspring to term and birth them.
Childhood Inspired Desire to Become Doctor
Jones was born on July 6, 1912 in Baltimore, Maryland, to J. King B.E. Seegar, an obstetrician who just happened to have delivered the man Jones would eventually marry: Howard W. Jones, Jr. When Jones was five years old, she broke a bone that got infected and caused her a lot of pain and problems. The experience was so hard on young Jones that it led her to think of medicine as a career, as she dreamed of helping those who were in pain, maybe even lessening or eradicating the worst of it.
To that end, Jones graduated from the Girls Latin High School in 1928, after which she attended Goucher College where she obtained a bachelor's degree in Chemistry. From there, in 1932, Jones started at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her studies and managed to graduate with her M.D. in 1936. She went on to postgraduate study, which she also completed at Johns Hopkins University. After graduation she applied for a fellowship from the National Institute of Health, which she happily received. The fellowship allowed Jones to continue her research until 1939 when Jones took a position with Johns Hopkins Medical School.
Discovered Location of Chorionic Gonadotropin
While she was at Johns Hopkins, Jones held such positions as director of the school's laboratory of reproductive physiology and gynecologist in charge of the hospital's gynecological endocrine clinic. This position made her one of the first reproductive endocrinologists on a medical school faculty in the United States. She kept both positions until her retirement in 1978. She eventually made full professor of gynecology and obstetrics. During her early work at Johns Hopkins, Jones discovered that the pregnancy hormone, chorionic gonadotropin, was located in the placenta, not the pituitary gland as had previously been thought. That single discovery led to the invention of the home pregnancy test, which has helped people around the globe plan their reproductive lives.
While working at Johns Hopkins, Jones married Howard Jones in 1940. It proved to be a good marriage for many reasons, not least of which was that the Joneses collaborated on their future gynecological studies and discovered many important things together, leading both of them onto the world stage of gynecological medicine. They eventually had two sons Howard Wilbur Jones III (who would become an obstetrician and gynecologist), and Lawrence Massey, and a daughter, Georgeanna Jones Klingensmith (who would become a pediatrician). During their collaborative years, Jones, along with her husband, was responsible for much of the respect that the gynecological part of Johns Hopkins hospital received.
Described the Luteal Phase Deficiency
In 1949, Jones conducted research into infertility, especially luteal phase deficiency, which she described as a cause of infertility and pregnancy loss. These problems, she studied, were caused by the inadequate secretory transformation of the endometrium (the membrane that lines the uterus), resulting from deficient production of progesterone, the female hormone which is secreted by the corpus luteum. Corpus luteum, which has to do with the luteal phase, is a yellow progesterone-secreting mass of cells that forms from an ovarian follicle after the release of a mature egg. Without it there can be no pregnancy. Finding and then describing the process of the luteal phase and the problems that occur during it had never been accomplished before. Jones's work helped with a more thorough understanding of reproduction and infertility. Jones held a belief that the more that was known about the causes of infertility, the better the chance was that it could be fixed. "She was a real leader in the field as far as endocrine aspects were concerned," The Lancet quoted Alan DeCherney as having said. DeCherney was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was also the editor of the publication Fertility and Sterility.
While she was engaged in her research with the causes of infertility and the processes involved in becoming pregnant, Jones was also involved with other things like teaching and writing. Her skill and success at research led others to seek out her advice and answers when they had questions about medical fertility issues. Along with her husband, Jones, seen as an authority on the subject, edited The Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey for 30 years. Jones also authored more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and more than 20 chapters that were included in various medical books.
With these and other issues to occupy her attention, Jones's life was very busy. She always found time to watch carefully over the educational and personal needs of her trainees, however, as she took her role as a teacher very seriously. She was even known to visit her trainees' houses when they were sick, bringing them groceries and other necessities that they could not get for themselves. The Lancet quoted Zev Rosenwaks, director of Cornell University Medical Center's Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility in New York, as having said of Jones, "She had everything. She was a great teacher, a superb clinician, and an excellent academician—the true triple threat. In other aspects of life, she was not only endowed with fortune that she had a wonderful family, but she was also exceedingly aware of the world around her and she cared deeply about it." Jones also became the first female president of the American Fertility School in 1970. (It is now called the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.) She was the type of clinician who not only scientifically cared for her patients, but did personally as well.
Jones retired from her official positions in the late 1970s. Her retirement was full of work rather than rest, though, and it was her work after her official retirement that garnered Jones most of her praise. After her retirement in 1978, Jones and her husband were recruited by the Eastern Virginia Medical School to teach for a few years. The Medical School wanted to make use of such respected doctors to enhance their own school's programs. It was certainly a success. At the Eastern Virginia Medical School Jones and her husband worked together again. In the late 1970s it was announced that a physician in Britain had produced the first test-tube baby, and the couple, full of the vigor of competition and dedication, put all their plans for a quiet and peaceful life on hold. They were determined to first copy the process that British doctors had used, and then to better it.
First In-Vitro Fertilization in the United States
The Joneses started by creating the first in-vitro fertilization clinic in the United States at the school they were teaching at: Eastern Virginia Medical School. They worked night and day to bring about their miracle, and all the hard work paid off. In 1981, just three years later, the couple managed to create the first ever test-tube baby in the United States, which was born after in-vitro fertilization. The method used by the Joneses involved ovulation induction with gonadotropins, which is what made the their program so successful. Gonadotropins are a hormone that stimulates the growth and activity of the gonads, which is an organ that produces gametes, the reproductive cells such as a fertile egg or sperm.
The first child was born on December 28, 1981 at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The five pound, 12 ounce baby was named Elizabeth Jordan Carr, born to Judith Carr, a 28-year-old Massachusetts schoolteacher. The team, headed by the Joneses, successfully joined Carr's husband's sperm in a laboratory dish with a ripe egg cell the doctors had removed from her own ovaries. According to the Washington Post, "They transplanted the growing clump of new cells into Carr's womb to let gestation take its normal course. The process also involved the use of fertility-inducing hormones by Dr. Jones, who was an expert on hyperstimulation of the ovaries. The hormones made the mother ovulate at a fixed time. 'All of this sounds so simple,' a member of the Jones team told The Washington Post on the day of the baby's birth, 'but there's a lot of stress in it all. And it works because a lot of people have worked a lot of long hours to make it go.'" Jones was almost as ecstatic as the Carrs were, who had tried to have a child several times without success. If it had not been for the Joneses and their team, the Carrs might have never been able to have a child.
The success of the experiment raised the profile of the school and doctors from around the world came to the school to train under the Joneses. Jones, especially, was looked up to as a strong and loyal person. She had a devoted following of past students who were loyal to her too. That loyalty even stretched to many of those children who were born at the clinic. Every year many of those children gathered at the Jones' school every Mother's Day for some time after. The Jones Institute of Reproductive Medicine at the school was named in the couple's honor. The Institute then set up the Georgeanna Seegar Jones Research Fund to make certain that research in the field of women's infertility would continue.
Chosen to Advise Pope John Paul II
As a show of the respect given to her, Jones was also, along with her husband, involved with international delegations to discuss the issues involved in reproduction and other medical gynecological issues. For instance, Jones and her husband were the only American gynecologists invited to the Vatican to take part in a panel advising Pope John Paul II on medical and ethical issues involving assisted reproduction. The Pope wanted as much information as possible about the process to decide whether or not assistance with reproduction was against the laws of the Catholic Church.
Jones died from heart failure on March 26, 2005, in Norfolk, Virginia; after having been afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. Jones's amazing contributions to the field of gynecological research earned her a myriad of honors and awards. These included the Rubin Award, in 1966; the Barren Foundation Award, in 1971; Virginia Woman of the Year, in 1982; Medical College of Pennsylvania's Woman Scientist of the Year, in 1982; Woman Scientist of the Year, from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, in 1985; election to the Society of Hopkins Scholars, in 1986; Distinguished Service Award Medal, by the Cosmopolitan Club of Nor folk, in 1988; and the Johns Hopkins Distinguished Alumnus Award, in 1997. She also received many honorary degrees from such institutions as Amherst College and Old Dominion University. Jones contributed much to the field of women's fertility, and she will long be remembered for it.
The Lancet, April 23, 2005.
Washington Post, March 28, 2005.
"Georgeanna Jones," Biography Resource Center Online, Gale 2005 (January 6, 2006).
"Georgeanna Seegar Jones Research Fund," Jones Institute, http://www.jonesinstitute.org/research_fund.html (January 6, 2006).