One of the most respected and significant reproductive biologists of the 20th century, Dr McLaren helped develop the technology to grow embryos in vitro – that is, in lab equipment outside of a mammal’s womb.
Her research was built upon to carry out the first in vitro fertilisation (IVF) birth of a human baby in the UK in 1978.
Dr McLaren, who is 94 years old today, later sat on the influential Warnock Committee in the 1980s, whose work led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 – the UK’s watershed legislation which regulates research and technology around creating human embryos in the lab.
She began her career training as a zoologist at the University of Oxford, but it was at the Royal Veterinary College in London during the 1950s that her breakthrough research into IVF came about.
In 1958 she published a paper in the scientific journal Nature reporting how she and colleagues had for the first time successfully developed mice embryos in vitro, proving it could be possible to do the same for humans.
Human IVF has now become a major part of fertility treatment around the world and in 2018 it was estimated about eight million children had been born using the technology.
Later in her career she became the first woman to become vice-president of the Royal Society and in 1995 became president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and dedicated many years to inspiring more public interest in cutting-edge science and technology.
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