Most important clinical researcher in his field

September 28, 2011

Carl Wood, 1929 – 2011

Carl Wood

Interested and interesting … Carl Wood never sought high office nor recognition for his innovative ideas.

Emeritus professor Carl Wood was one of the most remarkable obstetricians and gynaecologists of the 20th century. He was a world leader in in-vitro fertilisation, whose team achieved the first clinical IVF pregnancy in Melbourne in 1973, followed seven years later by Australia’s first IVF baby. Without doubt, he was the most important clinical researcher in Australia in human reproduction from the 1970s through the 1990s, with few peers in the world.

He was also an academic of considerable substance, who made big contributions to a subject that had long languished behind other branches of medicine. His work on uterine contractility, luteal function and the secretion of the hormone relaxin in pregnancy and during the ovulatory cycle, innovative treatment of ectopic pregnancy and microsurgical repair of damaged Fallopian tubes, are now recognised as huge contributions to reproductive medicine.

Edwin Carlyle Wood was born on May 28, 1929 in Melbourne, to Carlyle Wood, a gynaecologist, and his wife, Ruth. Wood’s elder brother, Alex, became a consultant urologist.

Advertisement: Story continues below

A real pioneer … Carl Wood.

A real pioneer … Carl Wood in 1981.

The young Wood was always top of his class at Wesley College and he went on to study medicine at Melbourne University, and took two academic prizes in his final year in 1952. When he qualified as a gynaecologist, he dedicated his life to making obstetrics and gynaecology a more personally satisfying experience for women.

He studied reproductive medicine as a natural integrated process, linking love and sexual desire to conception, pregnancy, birth and ultimately the bonding of mother and baby.

He thought it essential to take into account a woman’s emotions before deciding on medical or surgical intervention.

Wood spent time working in London and the United States before being persuaded to return to Australia as the founding chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at Monash University, where he spent the remainder of his academic career. His holistic approach was also a part of his teaching.

He used professional models as subjects on whom to teach medical students to do pelvic examinations. This helped the students to overcome their natural initial embarrassment, giving them a new-found confidence that relaxed woman patients when they had to undergo such examinations.

Wood also studied the problems of lack of sexual desire and sexual satisfaction in a society where these subjects were taboo. He stood up for a woman’s right to have an abortion, which at that time was illegal in Victoria, and encouraged his colleague, William Walters, to develop a sexual reassignment (trans-sexual) clinic in the face of opposition from the community and hospital staff.

His magnum opus began in the early 1970s when, independently, he initiated human in-vitro fertilisation, and in 1973 his team reported the first early IVF pregnancy in the world.

He led a team of scientists and clinicians at the Queen Victoria Medical Centre, collaborating closely with Ian Johnston at the Royal Women’s Hospital. He hired Alex Lopata and Alan Trounson as embryologists, and the team at the Women’s Hospital reported the birth of an IVF baby (Candice Reed) in 1980, which required the collection of an egg just before natural ovulation as described by Robert Edwards (Nobel Laureate, 2010) and Patrick Steptoe in England.

Trounson, Wood and his colleague, John Leeton, pioneered the use of fertility drugs for controlling and multiplying ovulation that revolutionised the success rate of IVF. Patients produced multiple eggs and embryos for transplantation and preservation and this rapidly became the method of clinical choice that has produced more than 5 million IVF babies world-wide.

To regulate the evolving sciences that were challenging community values, in particular the formation of embryos in the laboratory for IVF treatment, he introduced ethics committees to Monash University in the 1970s, and encouraged the parallel development of advocacy groups (IVF Friends) to encourage patient input to advance political debate and science as clinical developments expanded.

In the absence of any teaching of the initial IVF developments in Britain, Wood and his team became the base for training and technological guidance for the world.

Wood never sought high office nor recognition for his innovative ideas. He remained throughout, the accessible, slightly eccentric professor who promoted creative new ideas that were unconventional and often uncomfortable for many. Not surprisingly, he was rarely successful in obtaining grant support from public bodies that required strong support from established figures in the field. This never bothered him because he was able to support his research from his private practice, and preferred to work closely with colleagues who shared his interests in doing things differently.

As the most high-profile academic at Monash University, he was frequently sought by the media and the medical community for his opinion on a multiplicity of problems. He was recognised by the British and Australian governments for his contributions: appointed a Commander of the British Empire in 1982 for his work on IVF, and in 1995 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia. Many international and national professional societies also recognised his contributions to human medicine.

A man rich in ideas who was interested in those of others, he remained the nicest and most interesting person you could ever meet. In 2001, he was still working when he developed the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. His second marriage had been dissolved in 2000 and his first wife, Judy, who he had divorced in 1989, understood his need for care and took him back into the family.

Eventually, with the inexorable advance of the disease he had to be moved to a home for the severely disabled, where he was visited by family and a few friends who cared deeply for him. Despite his loss of memory, he remained his old self – cheerful, laughing and affectionate to those around him.

Carl Wood is survived by Judy and his children Caroline, Gavin and Simon.

Alan Trounson

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/most-important-clinical-researcher-in-his-field-20110927-1kvbr.html#ixzz1ZO4tPpe2

___________________________________________________________________________

More from John’s Story…

From To.. Page Name
 1967 1970  Into, and Out of, Africa
 1971 1980  A Quieter Life
1980  Offshore Racing
 1981 1990  The IVF Years
1987  It takes Three to Tango
1990  Cassy’s Story
 1991 2000  Going it Alone
 1991 2005  Tourism Marketing
1998  A House Somewhere
 2001 2010  A Change of Pace
2001  Fishing Trips
2005  More Fishing Trips
 2011 2020  If We Make It

 

Leave a Reply