Carl Djerassi was an American chemist known for his study of steroids and for his development of the first oral contraceptive pills. It would be difficult to overestimate the multifaceted impact the Pill had on the Western society: it launched or accelerated further emancipation of women and expanded their opportunities, was the catalyst for the sexual revolution of the 1960s-1970s, indirectly started new trends in the adoption practices, and influenced many other aspects of society. We present to our readers a few facts from the life of one of the most important personalities of the 20th century.
· Carl Djerassi was born on October 29, 1923 in Vienna, Austria. He died on January 30, 2015 in San Francisco, USA.
· He spent his early years in Austria and Bulgaria, and in 1939, his family emigrated to the United States fleeing persecution by Nazis. Djerassi became a US citizen only in 1945.
· He earned his bachelor's degree in organic chemistry at Kenyon College, Ohio, USA. He earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
· He authored more than 1,200 research papers and 7 monographs, mainly focused on steroid synthesis.
· He won more than 15 awards, held orders of merit and medals from various scientific associations and honorary doctorates from many universities.
· Djerassi is known not only as a scientist, but also as a novelist and playwright, the author of more than 20 works.
· He is famous, first of all, and the “father of the birth control pill.”
About his biggest accomplishment
On October 15, 1951, Djerassi, together with Luis E. Miramontes and George Rosenkranz, succeeded in synthesizing norethisterone, a hormone progestin analogue. These hormones are naturally released during pregnancy, preventing ovulation. The synthesized substance made it possible to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The new substance could be administered orally.
Many scientists contributed to the creation of the first commercially available medicine. One of them was biologist Gregory Pincus who conducted many important experiments at the preliminary stage and to whom Djerassi sent the first synthesized samples. And doctor John Rock and his team held the first clinical trials of the new medication that let to its admission to the US drug market.
The new product, known as the Pill, first went on sale only on May 20, 1960, almost nine years after the first discoveries in this field.
Interestingly, the very idea of using progesterone to prevent unwanted pregnancies was first proposed by an Austrian physiologist, Ludwig Haberlandt, about 25 years before the Pill was invented. But in his time, the idea was met with such hostility (primarily from the church) that it drove the scientist to suicide. So much has changed in the mores of Europe within just a quarter of a century.
The emergence of the Pill had a major impact on the development of the Western civilization. Djerassi himself repeatedly talked about his invention coming at the perfect time for the rise of feminism and the hippie culture. Invention of oral contraceptive pills that were accessible to every woman did more for the movement for women's emancipation than political decisions and public initiatives ever could. According to the scientist, without his invention, the sexual revolution of the 1960s simply could not have happened.
Life and Work: biography facts
· Djerassi received his first patent for the invention of antihistamines, so he can be considered the father of another type of drug as well.
· Djerassi was not employed in a researcher position when he made his discovery that led to the creation of oral contraceptive drugs: at the time, he was working for Syntex, a small pharmaceutical company. It was only after the recognition and success of this invention that Djerassi was made Professor at Wayne State University, and later at Stanford University. He continued to balance his academic career with his work in pharmaceutical companies, and in 1968, he founded his own company, Zoecon.
· In one of his last interviews, published in November 2014 by The Telegraph, Djerassi offered a sensational prediction. He said that by 2050, people will no longer be having sex for procreation. The professor suggested that people will be freezing their eggs and sperm and then undergoing sterilization.
· The scientist's daughter Pamela underwent sterilization; Djerassi insisted that he did not influence her decision and that the choice was fully hers. At the age of 28, Pamela committed suicide, which many media outlets connected to severe depression resulting from the procedure.
· Carl Djerassi started a serious writing career at the age of 60. Despite the late start, he succeeded in this area as well. His works have been translated into many languages, and his plays have been staged in numerous theaters. One of his most famous works is the novel Cantor's Dilemma. Djerassi described his genre as "science-in-fiction", in his novels he portrayed scientists, with all the conflicts and moral dilemmas that they face in the course of their work.