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'Giants Supporting Future Giants'

Two new Gynecology and Obstetrics professorships honor the department's past while seeding its future
Posted May 12, 2016
IVF pioneers Georgeanna Seegar Jones, MD (Med '36) and Howard W. Jones, Jr., MD (Med '35) IVF pioneers Georgeanna Seegar Jones, MD (Med '36) and Howard W. Jones, Jr., MD (Med '35)

As recently as four decades ago, couples who desperately wanted children, but couldn't get pregnant, had few choices beyond adoption. But today, couples experiencing infertility have the option of in vitro fertilization — which in 2012 accounted for 1.5 percent of the 3.9 million births recorded in the United States. That statistic is one of the legacies left by Howard W. Jones, Jr., MD (Med '35), and his wife, Georgeanna Seegar Jones, MD (Med '36) — two former Hopkins doctors whose pioneering work produced the first IVF-conceived baby in the country 35 years ago.

But the couple's legacy doesn't end there. Two generous gifts — one establishing a professorship in the Jones' names and another creating the Richard TeLinde, MD, and Edward Wallach, MD, Professorship — will enable Hopkins Gynecology and Obstetrics faculty to pursue innovative approaches that can drive new discoveries in their field, bringing the Jones' revolutionary approach to reproductive endocrinology into the 21st century and beyond. 

Penning the next chapter of in vitro treatments

The chain of events leading to the Jones professorship began in 1958, when the Joneses began a close friendship with Lonnie Sheldon Burnett, MD, and his wife, Betty Scruggs Burnett. Years later, the Burnetts sought to honor their dear friends with a bequest that in 2014 became the professorship bearing the Joneses' names. The Gyn-Ob department recruited James Segars, Jr., MD, from the National Institutes of Health to become the first Jones Professor and lead the Howard and Georgeanna Seegar Jones Reproductive Endocrinology Laboratory.

"I have a huge degree of admiration and respect for Howard and Georgeanna Jones," Segars says. "Their impact on my career was enormous."

At Hopkins, Segars is eager to carry on the Joneses' reputation as pioneers in the field of in vitro fertilization. In 1939, professor and department chair Richard TeLinde appointed Georgeanna as director of Hopkins' Division of Reproductive Endocrinology — the first in the country — while Howard established an international reputation as in reparative and reconstructive surgery of the female genital tract.

"The Joneses' 'question of questions' was how to fertilize the egg in vitro, and ours is how we might activate oocytes," or dormant egg cells that may remain in a woman's ovaries in the case of ovarian failure, Segars says. Until now, ovarian failure has meant the eggs were unable to be fertilized. But that doesn't mean the eggs are used up — only that something inside of the cells has made them inactive. Segars' research into activating those cells in vitro could open up previously unplumbed possibilities for fertilization.

Beyond those studies, Segars' lab is performing clinical protocols on noninvasive approaches to treating uterine fibroids — painful growths that can lead to infertility and affect 70 to 80 percent of African-American women by age 50. His team also is examining fundamental aspects of endometrial cells that allow them to implant outside of the uterus in cases of endometriosis. The goal: to shorten the time between symptom onset and diagnosis — currently averaging 10 years — and enabling earlier treatments.

Paying an honor forward

Touched by the way the Burnetts had honored him and Georgeanna, Howard wanted to honor two faculty members and former department chairs whose efforts helped launch the Jones' careers. Shortly before he died in 2015, Howard made a gift to establish the Richard TeLinde, MD, and Edward Wallach Professorship. TeLinde, who authored the definitive textbook on gynecologic surgery, led the charge to create a subspecialty in assisted reproduction at Hopkins and make investments in women's health. Wallach, the department's chair from 1984 to 1994, kept alive the connection between the Joneses and Hopkins after the couple left for Norfolk, Virginia, to establish the Jones Institute of Reproductive Medicine.

"The thing about these professorships is that they really link us to our history," says Andrew Satin, MD, the Dr. Dorothy Edwards Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics and director of the department. The Jones Professorship honors legacies, and with the TeLinde-Wallach Professorship, those legacies honor the people who did things for them. It's giants supporting future giants."

Although the first TeLinde-Wallach Professorship recipient has yet to be named, the Jones' son, Howard W. Jones III, MD, knows his parents would be thrilled to know how their gift — and another in their name — will advance Johns Hopkins and the field to which they dedicated their careers.

"The whole purpose of Mom and Dad's contributions during their careers was to emphasize new developments and new learning in the field of women's health, and particularly reproductive endocrinology," Jones III says. "These professorships are exciting for the whole field."