John D. Biggers: School of Medicine

John Dennis (J.D.) Biggers, former King Ranch Research Professor in Reproductive Physiology at Penn and a pioneer researcher for in-vitro fertilization, died on April 7 in Lexington, Massachusetts, from cancer. He was 94.

Dr. Biggers was born in England, and grew up outside London. After attending the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine, he focused on mammalian physiology and earned his PhD from the University of London.

In 1958, he and his colleague Anne McClaren published their landmark paper in Nature, reporting the first successful development of a mammalian (mouse) early embryo in culture. This foundational work contributed to the establishment of human in vitro fertilization (IVF), and the birth of over five million children over the past two generations.

He emigrated to the U.S. in 1959 to teach at the University of Pennsylvania as the King Ranch Research Professor of Reproductive Physiology. He later moved on to John Hopkins University and then Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Biggers received many honors, including the Pioneer Award from the International Embryo Technology Society and the Marshall Medal from the Society for the Study of Fertility. He also served as the leader of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, and chief scientific adviser to the ethics committee of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and he worked with the World Health Organization, consulting on contraceptive research in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

He is survived by his sister, Jeanne Brook and her family; his children, David (Kathleen O’Connell), Philippa (Robert Salzman), and Jennifer Wasserman (Peter); stepchildren Peter Hess (Natalie Mahowald), Paul Hess (Katherine Childs), Rick Colbath-Hess (Chris Colbath-Hess) and David Hess (Andrea Khan); grandchildren, Rebecca, Madeline and Nicola Salzman, Megan, Jason and Katie Wasserman and Sam, Will and Daniel Biggers; step-grandchildren Jacob and Sophie Colbath-Hess, Elias and Alan Hess-Childs, and Rowan and Linden Hess; and one great-grandchild, Kiran Pollock.