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hCG Research at NIH

For young researchers interested in reproductive hormone studies (reproductive endocrinology) in the late 1960s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was an ideal location. Two key researchers came to the NIH in1970 specifically to do research in this field. Judith Vaitukaitis and Glenn Braunstein, both medical residents in Boston (at different hospitals) in 1969, talked to their colleagues about where to pursue hormone research. Each heard the same message: go to Bethesda and talk to scientists Mortimer Lipsett and Griff Ross. Vaitukaitis arrived at NIH on a special postdoctoral fellowship and would become one of the first female senior investigators in her Institute. For Braunstein, NIH provided an opportunity to fulfill his military duty by signing up with the Public Health Service instead of going to Vietnam, and he came as a Clinical Associate.


Judith Vaitukaitis (JV): I came to [NIH to] stay for six weeks or six months, and I stayed almost six years. It was probably the most fun time of my life. It was the kind of scenario that, if I were independently wealthy, I would have done it for nothing.


JV: I think I may have been the first woman senior investigator [at NICHD]. But I was so used to it. In med school there were five or six women [in my class]. I can remember one of the guys walking up to me and saying, “You know, if you weren’t in this class, I’d be rated higher.” And I said, “Tough! Why don’t you work harder?” I’ll never forget that.


Glenn Braunstein (GB): I applied to go to the NIH to work with Griff Ross, but did not hear until the day before I was to sign my commission papers for the Army. The telegram said that I would be commissioned in the Public Health Service. This gave me the opportunity to fulfill my military obligation while working at the one place then on the cutting edge of hCG research.


Both young doctors arrived in Bethesda in 1970 and in the years they spent with the Reproductive Research Branch—first at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and then at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)—they found an active community for the study of reproductive endocrinology. Because of the newness of the field, they could practically publish a paper from every result.


JV: [The NIH] was one of the few places in the country where one could do reproductive endocrinology. It was a new field. And the thing was that no matter what we did, it was brand new, so everything was publishable.


JV: It was Building 10, 10B09. It was in a small laboratory, and for periods of months, there would be about 10 of us working in that space. I used to get over there about six o’clock in the morning and not leave till eleven o’clock at night. There were quite a few that worked long hours. The second or third year I was here, I think I published 28 papers in one year. They weren’t piddling kinds of things. I mean, there were so many things that one could do if you decided to think it through to understand what in the world’s going on. It was the way research should be.


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The Reproduction Research Branch at NICHD, circa 1970
The Reproduction Research Branch at NICHD, c. 1970.
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