Internationally renowned reproductive endocrinologist. He was born in Glasgow, UK, on March 13, 1935 and died in Edinburgh, UK on Feb 12, 2022 aged 86 years.
“The single most important European clinical scientist in reproductive biology and medicine”, said Professor Johannes Evers in 2002, when granting honorary membership of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) to David Baird, Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Evers, then Chair of ESHRE, explains that when Baird began studying reproduction, his use of medical and biological skills in combination was still unusual. Across the fertility spectrum, from its control to its enhancement, Baird’s research had demonstrated the value of this dual discipline approach.
As his colleague Hilary Critchley, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, points out, Baird’s work on progesterone receptor antagonists contributed to the development of new methods of medical abortion. “On the fertility enhancement side”, Critchley explains, “he did pioneering studies of how one might ultimately cryopreserve ovaries, with their primordial follicles, to provide future opportunities [of pregnancy] for young women surviving cancer.” Another colleague Richard Anderson, the Elsie Inglis Professor of Clinical Reproductive Science at the University of Edinburgh, talks of the enduring impact of Baird’s work: “Many of the things that are now part of routine practice he had a hand in shaping…from the ovarian stimulation we use every day in IVF to our understanding of ovarian function.”
The name Baird was familiar in reproductive health long before David arrived on the scene. His father Sir Dugald (1899–1986) was Regius Professor of Midwifery at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and active in abortion law reform. Baird’s mother Matilda Tennent (1901–83) was also a physician and she established Aberdeen’s first free family planning clinic. It was with this background that Baird decided to read natural sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK, followed by clinical studies at the University of Edinburgh, from where he graduated in 1959. In addition to obstetrics and gynaecology, Baird went on to train in endocrinology. In 1965 he joined the now defunct Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, an independent research centre in Shrewsbury, MA, USA. His research there on several topics, including ovarian steroid secretion and the role of prostaglandins in reproduction, confirmed and reinforced his fascination for the endocrinology of his field.
Baird returned to the UK in 1968, subsequently becoming a consultant at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. 2 years later, with the biologist Roger Short, he founded what is now the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Reproductive Health, with Short as Director and Baird as Deputy, a role now shared by Critchley and Anderson. In 1977, Baird gave up this post to take a Chair in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Edinburgh. It was in 1985, intent on spending more time on research, that he became MRC Clinical Research Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology. Although he retired in 2000, Baird remained active in the Contraceptive Development Network, an international collaboration he had developed 5 years earlier to explore new approaches to contraception, including hormonal methods for men, in Africa and China. As Critchley emphasises, Baird was as committed to the social aspects of his field as he was to its science and medicine.
Evers, now Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Maastricht University Medical Center, Netherlands, stresses the importance of Baird’s animal work: “He introduced the transplantation and preservation of ovarian tissue…He started in sheep by transplanting ovaries into the neck pouch, showing that they could still make hormones and produce eggs.” The sheep model, Evers says, became a valuable tool. “Later on Baird showed that you could freeze this tissue and thaw it after several years, and it could still function.”
As Anderson recalls, Baird “didn’t like people telling him he couldn’t do things, so he was a force to be reckoned with in getting things done”. Evers remembers how at meetings “he could immediately spot the weak points in a study”. But there was no rancour. “If he had tested your argument”, Evers says, “and then accepted your ideas, he was delightful company. And generous in giving you his own ideas.” As for patients, “their wellbeing was at the heart of what he was trying to do”, says Critchley. “A warm person with a great sense of humour…patients loved him.” Baird’s scientific and clinical work did much to advance women’s health care. Baird leaves his wife and occasional collaborator, Anna Glasier, reproductive health physician and Professor at the University of Edinburgh, and sons, Dugald and Gavin, by a previous marriage to Frances.
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.