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Dr. Georgiana Mary Jagiello





Year of Birth / Death

1927 - 2015


Medical School

Tufts University School of Medicine


Geography

LOCATION
New York


Career Path

Obstetrics and gynecology: Reproductive endocrinology
Research
Dr. Georgiana Mary Jagiello



Milestones

YEAR
1983
ACHIEVEMENT
As co-director for the Center for Reproductive Sciences at Columbia University, Dr. Georgiana Jagiello was part of the team responsible for the first IVF birth in New York City.
YEAR
1976
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Georgiana Jagiello was the first woman appointed to an endowed chair at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
YEAR
1966
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Georgiana Jagiello perfected a technique for obtaining human eggs which is now used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures throughout the country and around the world.
YEAR
1964
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Georgiana Jagiello was the first woman appointed to the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


Inspiration

I had a very early interest in biology and problem solving—this became coupled with a sense of responsibility for other people and their needs, especially the very ill.



Biography

As a reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Georgiana M. Jagiello has devoted her career to investigating the causes of Down syndrome and understanding the changes that take place in human egg cells as a woman matures. She perfected a technique for harvesting eggs that is now used in in vitro fertilization procedures worldwide, and was part of the team responsible for the first IVF birth in New York City.

Georgiana Jagiello was interested in science from an early age, earning a national science award at Plainville High School in 1944. She attended Boston University College of Liberal Arts on scholarship, and earned her B.A. in 1949. Since finishing medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine in 1955, Dr. Jagiello's career as a reproductive scientist has spanned two continents and almost half a century. In 1964, Dr. Jagiello was the first woman to be appointed to the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After serving as senior lecturer in genetics at Guy's Hospital, London from 1966 to 1969, she was offered the Prince Philip Chair of Pediatric and Genetic Research. After great deliberation, she declined and returned to the United States. Dr. Jagiello was the first woman appointed to an endowed chair at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

During her work in genetics in London, Dr. Jagiello became interested in the study chromosomes and their connection to Down syndrome. To study chromosomes, she needed to look at eggs. Working with Dr. P.E. Polani, Dr. Jagiello adapted for human use a technique originally used to harvest eggs from small mammals. The first step in the process, which results in gathering about five or six eggs, is to stimulate the maturation of the eggs. Next ovulation is stimulated. Finally the eggs are harvested, using laproscopy.

When Dr. Jagiello returned to the United States in 1970, she continued her research as professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and human genetics at Columbia University, and later as director for University's Center for Reproductive Sciences. It was there, in 1983 that the first IVF baby was born in New York City. Dr. Jagiello recalled, "My job was to set up the lab and the system for obtaining eggs. It was a very team- oriented procedure that involved a great amount of hands-on manipulation of the eggs." Because of her research background, she said, "I knew what healthy human eggs looked like. Not a lot of people did at the time. I saw every embryo that went through here."

Looking back on her work as director of the Center for Reproductive Sciences, she says that "the important thing is to remember the place where you find the most joy. For me that was at my bench looking down through the microscope at my work. This must be the first priority. That way you always have that little piece of happiness each day." For more than forty years, Dr. Jagiello has found great satisfaction as a genetic researcher, seeking the causes of Down syndrome. She hasn't found the answer, but while trying to determine what happens to eggs as women age, Dr. Jagiello perfected a technique for gathering human eggs that is now used in in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures throughout the country and the world.

Dr. Jagiello's search for the causes of Down syndrome led not only to the development of this technique, but also to an increased understanding of environmental factors and chemical exposure on fetal development. Other studies have focused on industrial environmental factors and spontaneous abortions. Much of her research focused on animal studies. The Turkish hamster's seasonal hibernation, for example, coupled with its large number of triploid embryos, made it an ideal research model. Her work with these mammals resulted in over a dozen published articles.

In 1997 she received the Columbia University's Distinguished Service Award. Her continued research on the causes of Down syndrome has led to many scientific accomplishments, but no final answers. "We simply couldn't solve it with the methods of our time," said Dr. Jagiello. "Somewhere there is a small clue which will allow us to develop the technology to ask and answer the right question. I would love to see the answer in my existence."



Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Financial problems were ever present, but scholarships and loans plus a part-time job took care of this.

How do I make a difference?

My academic career has allowed me to make contributions to basic science (the genetics of oogenesis), patient care (IVF), teach medical and doctoral students as well as residents, and to serve on national advisory boards, private philanthropic foundations and trusteeships.

Who was my mentor?

My mentors were Dr. Edwin B. Astwood (Endocrine); Prof. Peter M. F. Bishop (Reproductive Medicine); and Prof. Paul E. Polani (Genetics)

How has my career evolved over time?

My career has proceeded without pause from intern in medicine, to training in research and clinical medicine, thence to genetics within academic medical centers in the United States and England. Academic appointments proceeded concurrently up to an endowed chair here at Columbia (first woman).