Gregory Pincus was the American born son of Polish Jewish immigrants. He briefly moved to Berlin, Germany to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology in the late 1920s but returned to the United States unharmed in 1930, when offered a position at his alma mater Harvard. There he focused his research on mammalian reproduction and infertility.
He cofounded the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in 1945 to study possible links between hormone levels and disease, a relatively new study at the time. He hired Min Chueh Chang, a Chinese PhD with a focus on fertility at the gametes level. His research on the deleterious iimpact of testicular cooling on sperm health first described what’s now known as “cold shock”.
Chang was born in the Shanxi province of China in 1908. He received a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University before winning a competitive fellowship to study abroad. He spent time at Edinburgh iin Scotland but found the people and weather equally hostile. A relocation to Cambridge in England introduced him to reproduction, which became his passion.
Both scientists were particularly interested in the possibility of in vitro fertilization as a treatment for infertility. In 1959 they succeeded, taking eggs and sperm from black rabbits to implant fertilized embryos in a white rabbit, who birthed a litter of black baby bunnies. One step on the path to in vitro was testing the efficacy of orally administered steroids and hormones.
Margaret Sanger met Pincus at a dinner party hosted by Planned Parenthood’s medical director in 1951. Before the night was over she’d given him a meager grant to begin contraceptive research. Pincus and Chang confirmed earlier research findings, that progesterone could inhibit fertility by preventing ovulation. Sanger tried and failed to secure ample research funds from Planned Parenthood.