Professor David Baird, the most eminent British reproductive endocrinologist of his generation, died on 12th February 2022 at the age of 86. He was a giant in the field, with an unparalleled reputation internationally as a leader in research in women's health, and mentor to a host of individuals who were privileged to train and work with him over 40 years. He was a regular supporter and contributor to the work of the Progress Education Trust, recognising the need for public education, debate and support for the changes in healthcare, particularly for women, that were his life's work.
David was born in Glasgow but the family moved to Aberdeen where his father, Professor Sir Dugald Baird, was later appointed Regius professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the university. David studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, then completed his clinical studies at the University of Edinburgh. His early clinical training was in both endocrinology and obstetrics and gynaecology, in London and Edinburgh, setting the scene for his subsequent career.
During a Fellowship at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shewsbury, Massachusetts he studied ovarian steroid secretion and contributed to the development of first chemical assay to detect estradiol. He also identified essential roles for prostaglandins in reproduction, notably the role of uterine PGF2a in luteolysis – the demise of the corpus luteum. These findings underpin now routine clinical treatments, and are cornerstones in livestock breeding.
He returned to Edinburgh and in 1970 was promoted to senior lecturer and consultant at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. It was at this time that his vision of the added value of scientists working alongside clinicians and close to the patients led to the establishment of the University of Edinburgh Centre for Reproductive Biology in 1972. This created a model that became the gold standard for such research institutes worldwide. He was deputy director of the Medical Research Council Reproductive Biology Unit from its inception in 1972 until 1977 when he was appointed professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Edinburgh University and from 1985 until his retirement in 2000, MRC clinical research professor of reproductive endocrinology
He developed many international collaborations, and his past trainees have also spread his influence in every continent of the world. His many scientific and clinical contributions have had a huge impact on women's healthcare, through his scientific publications and engagement with government, the medical profession and the public in the ethical and scientific debates surrounding these fundamental scientific advances. He was involved in the early development of IVF, which is still subject to distinct legislation compared to every other aspect of medical practice. His important contributions to the understanding of the regulation of ovarian follicle selection and development, and of implantation and early pregnancy, continue to provide the bedrock of our knowledge of reproductive biology that underpins daily clinical practice in these areas. These contributions were recognised by awards from many scientific societies, and he was created Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000.
Throughout his career he recognised the importance of robust animal models to understand human reproductive biology and to translate that into clinical practice. His pioneering development of transplanting the ovary to the animal's neck allowed repeated direct sampling of hormone production and led to major developments in understanding of the regulation and function of the ovary. Also using the sheep, he developed techniques for cryopreservation of ovarian tissue and demonstrated retention of its gametes and hormone producing capacities. This pivotal contribution led to the rapid development of female fertility preservation which has become an established field of clinical practice worldwide, and has transformed the lives of young cancer survivors by allowing them to go on and have children after treatment.
His father, Dugald, had advocated for the 'fifth freedom', from excess fertility. David was passionate about this, and in 1995 he led the establishment at the University of Edinburgh of the Contraceptive Development Network. With collaborations in Africa and China and funding from the MRC and the Overseas Development Administration and its successor, the Department for International Development, this trialled novel approaches to contraception, including hormonal methods for men. David's recognition of the importance of progesterone receptor antagonists led to pioneering clinical studies developing mifepristone and subsequent similar drugs for safe medical abortion and both emergency and daily contraception. Continuing his legacy, the current pandemic has seen further developments in making medical abortion available in non-medical settings including at home, and thus more in the control of the woman herself.
David was a life-long friend and supporter to very many of us in the field. His encyclopaedic knowledge was generously shared, but he could be intimidating: few speakers were immune to a moment of trepidation on seeing his distinctive frame rise from the audience to ask what was invariably a penetrating question.
An exceptional man, he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his wife Anna, and all David's family.