Joseph D. Schulman, M.D., founder of the Genetics & IVF Institute, currently serves as the Chairman of the Institute's Board of Directors, and was Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director of GIVF from 1984 until 1998. He is internationally recognized in the fields of human reproduction and genetics, and is the only American physician to have trained with Drs. Robert G. Edwards and Patrick Steptoe of Britain, the inventors of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Dr. Schulman was also the first director of the Medical Genetics Program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he was a research scientist and served on the faculty for ten years. He has served as a consultant to numerous academic and research institutions, has produced over 200 original contributions to the medical literature, and currently holds an affiliate professorship at the College of Medicine of Virginia Commonwealth University, with an additional teaching appointment at the University of California - San Diego.
Dr. Schulman is well known as one of the pioneers in the creation of the specialties of assisted reproduction and prenatal genetics in the United States, and was the impetus behind development of many important concepts and techniques that have become standard in these important fields.
After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1966, Dr. Schulman originally trained in pediatrics at the Massachusetts General Hospital (1966-68) and then did a genetics fellowship at the NIH (1968-70). While at NIH, he decided to specialize in the fields of human genetics and reproduction, and subsequently was fully trained in obstetrics and gynecology at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. He felt that the combination of all these disciplines would provide a unique foundation of formal qualifications for pursuing his medical and research interests.
Before commencing a research career at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the NIH, Dr. Schulman became aware of the revolutionary research of Drs. Robert G. Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, who were working in England to develop the original methods for IVF. With the support of fellowships from the March of Dimes (obtained with the help of its eminent President, Dr. Virginia Apgar) and Harvard Medical School (Gilbert Fellowship) from 1973 through 1974, he worked directly with Drs. Edwards and Steptoe in Cambridge and Manchester, England. While there, he helped develop some of the first methods for obtaining and successfully fertilizing human eggs and cultivating human embryos in vitro (outside the body).
Returning from England in 1974, Dr. Schulman became the head of the Section on Human Biochemical Genetics at NICHD where he remained until 1983. During his tenure at the NIH he conducted extensive research and published numerous scientific papers on human genetic diseases, and also founded and directed the NIH Interinstitute Program in Medical Genetics.
After the birth of the first IVF babies in England, Dr. Schulman left NIH and started one of the first American IVF programs while becoming a Professor at George Washington University. While at GW he hired Andrew Dorfmann as senior IVF embryologist. Their collaboration has endured over two decades since their subsequent creation of GIVF, and Andy continues as the Institute's head of embryology. GIVF was formed as a joint venture with the Fairfax Hospital Association, now known as Inova Health System, one of the largest regional hospital systems in the United States.
GIVF was founded on several core insights that created the model for IVF centers across the country and around the world. An important component of this model was to provide IVF treatment on an outpatient basis using non-surgical ultrasound guided egg retrieval. GIVF was the very first in the United States to do IVF with this technique instead of laparoscopy. Dr. Schulman heralded this innovation in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. For the first time, IVF patients did not require general anesthesia or hospitalization to obtain eggs. This made infertility treatment more available to and far less intrusive for patients. GIVF also conceived providing infertility treatment in combination with genetic services, an integration which improves quality of care and efficiency and sets GIVF apart from virtually all other infertility facilities.
In the area of genetic screening GIVF was also a trailblazer. GIVF was one of the world's first centers to introduce prenatal genetic testing via CVS (chorionic villus sampling) as an early, first trimester alternative to amniocentesis. Today GIVF has what it believes to be the largest aggregate institutional experience with CVS in the United States. In addition, GIVF was among the first to utilize real-time ultrasound guidance of the amniocentesis needle for safer performance of that procedure with lower risk of fetal injury. Of at least equal importance, GIVF introduced new laboratory techniques for the culture of amniocytes (amniotic fluid cells) which reduced the waiting time for results from 6 weeks to about 8-10 days. This enormously decreased patient anxiety and proved immensely popular with patients and referring physicians.
In the mid 1980s GIVF started the Fairfax Cryobank in order to create an alternative to the then prevailing method of donor insemination with fresh sperm (a method which GIVF never employed). Instead, Fairfax Cryobank made available frozen sperm released from quarantine for sale only after an extended time period followed by retesting of the donors to ensure the avoidance of genetic and infectious diseases. In the mid 1980s GIVF also introduced one of America's first Donor Egg IVF programs which, over the ensuing decades, has become one of the recognized leaders in the field. Today Fairfax Cryobank is one of the two largest cryobanks in the United States, and GIVF is the only infertility facility to offer both its own major donor sperm and donor egg programs.
In the next decade, under Dr. Schulman's leadership GIVF started one of the first preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) laboratories in the United States. This facility made it possible for GIVF to test IVF embryos for genetic factors and to prevent genetic diseases in the offspring of at-risk families. The Institute's PGD program is now one of the national leaders in both quality and volume, and has developed several important new disease-related PGD tests. Dr. Schulman also conceived and implemented the innovation of using non-disclosing PGD for the prenatal prevention of Huntington disease, and the Institute has now helped more Huntington families have disease-free children than any facility in the world.
In the mid 1990s Dr. Schulman, being continuously attentive to the latest scientific research, learned of a team in Belgium that had developed a new technique called ICSI, (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) for successfully microinjecting a single human sperm into a living egg. This promised to be revolutionary for the treatment of male infertility in the frequent cases where, even when using IVF, the sperm were unable to spontaneously penetrate into the egg. GIVF was the first infertility clinic in the United States to use ICSI and was the first in America to report pregnancies using that method. Dr. Schulman described this pioneering ICSI experience in a major address at the 1994 meeting of the American Fertility Society.
In the mid 1990s, the Institute, under Dr. Schulman's leadership, developed an entirely new method called NSA (non-surgical sperm aspiration) for non-surgical treatment of certain cases of male infertility. NSA avoided the need for testicular surgery and also for vasectomy reversals, and could be effectively combined with ICSI. This new method was highly successful and popular with patients, and was copied all over the world.
Around the same time, under Dr. Schulman’s direction, GIVF started the first human program in the world for preserving female reproduction prior to cancer treatment using cryopreservation of ovarian tissue slices.
Also in the 1990s, Dr. Schulman recognized that a breakthrough technique being utilized in animals for gender selection had the potential to be adopted for use in humans. He understood that new methods of DNA testing (fluorescence in situ hybridization, FISH) already in use by the Institute’s genetics labs were the key to safely and rapidly examining the feasibility of sorting human sperm. Preliminary testing of this concept was successful, and today GIVF holds the worldwide exclusive license for sperm sorting in humans. Dr. Schulman named this highly innovative approach MicroSort® and began a clinical trial with the FDA that is ongoing at the present time and has already resulted in the births of hundreds of normal children.
Before retiring from full-time active medical duty with the Institute, Dr. Schulman recognized yet another significant avenue for marrying the Institute's broad medical and scientific capabilities with a market opportunity. In the late 1990s GIVF established the first two modern IVF centers in China, first in Shanghai and then subsequently in Guangzhou. GIVF, which has always attracted international patients in search of treatment, was now able to take its capabilities beyond the United States.
Today Dr. Schulman is an active member of the GIVF Board of Directors, serving as its Chairman. He pursues his lifelong thirst for new ideas and developments in reproduction and genetics by continuing to study the latest scientific and professional developments and helping to catalyze continuing GIVF innovations. As an obstetrician, pediatrician, geneticist, luminary in the field of human reproduction, and former research scientist, Dr. Schulman embodies what GIVF has come to represent.
Dr. Schulman published Robert G. Edwards: A Personal Viewpoint in 2010, a personal account of Dr. Schulman's work with Nobel Laureate Robert Edwards on the development of the original methods of IVF. To request a free copy, click here. To read Dr. Schulman's personal appreciation of Nobel Laureate Robert G. Edwards, click here.
Today GIVF is the leader for combining infertility treatment and genetics for the delivery of important, pioneering, high quality medical treatment, and patient care. GIVF continues to be an organization not only where outstanding medical care is offered, but also one firmly dedicated to expanding its well-deserved reputation as a center where scientific knowledge and innovation are created and highly valued, and where the latest reproductive and genetic innovations are transformed from theory into everyday practice.
A Sampling of Dr. Schulman's Articles:
Nobel Laureate Robert G. Edwards, PhD: A Personal Appreciation
Understanding Success Rates
What is your success rate? Part 1
What is your success rate? Part 2