It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of my friend and mentor, Professor Ian Craft, aged 81.
In 1981, fresh out of University with a degree in Applied Biology, I applied for a research job in the Department of Gynaecology at the Royal Free Hospital in London. I was last to be called for interview and since I thought it was a gynaecology job, and I was the only male applicant, I wasn’t expecting a favourable outcome.
Professor Craft was one of my interviewers and explained to me that they wanted a resourceful technically minded scientist to develop an Extra Corporeal Fertilisation program, otherwise known as a test-tube baby programme. At the end of the interview Professor Craft gave the job me and I can only assume he saw something in me that I hadn’t, or it could have been because I had decided to stay in London regardless and had found a bedsit the day before the interview. Whatever the reason it set me on a path that 37 years later I am still following, and I have never regretted a moment.
The team at the Royal Free Hospital included four members: Professor Craft, myself, Hillary Twigg (nurse/coordinator) and Bill Smith (Ultrasongrapher) – another incredible man, who himself pioneered the use of ultrasonography in infertility treatment.
And so we began our work to develop a successful test-tube baby - a first for the UK outside of Steptoe and Edward’s Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, which had recently opened.
Since Steptoe and Edwards were unwilling to provide any help or advice to me, Professor Craft put me in contact with the pioneering IVF team in Melbourne, Australia. They had researched the test-tube baby procedure independently of Steptoe and Edwards and Professor Craft had been in attendance for the birth of Australia’s very first IVF baby in Melbourne, 1980.
Over the next few years I worked closely with Professor Craft or “Prof” as he was known in- or out- of work. Together we worked on developing the best possible embryo transfer catheters, the Craft suction pump, a device to control the extraction of eggs from a patient’s follicle, we pioneered the introduction of a day case treatment procedure – revolutionary at the time – achieved the first British test-tube twins and triplets and the first pregnancy and delivery of a baby in the world conceived after direct egg and sperm transfer to the uterine cavity. This procedure was the forerunner to other techniques of fertility treatment that did not rely on the development of embryos and has since being recognised as a significant milestone in IVF history.
Many knew him as a maverick, but my time working with Prof was an exciting period of research and development, which only happened thanks to his drive and commitment. I have fond memories when Prof and I would head on back to the hospital late at night in his old battered car after a meeting just because we couldn’t wait until morning to see if the eggs had fertilised.
Prof was one of the original IVF pioneers. You can read more about what it was like working with him in those pioneering days of IVF in my autobiography ‘The Egg & The Family: IVF - The Early Years.' Here are some more fond memories of out times together:
Professor Ian Craft at the start of our programme in 1981.
The first test-tube baby twins in the UK, 1982.
The first test-tube baby triplets in the UK, 1984.