Marshall J. Edwards: Discoverer of maternal hyperthermia as a human teratogen


  • John M. Graham Jr.

    Corresponding author
    1. Medical Genetics Institute, Steven Spielberg Pediatric Research Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California
    2. Department of Pediatrics, UCLA David Geffin Medical School, Los Angeles, California
    • Director of Clinical Genetics and Dysmorphology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 444 South San Vicente Blvd. #1001, Los Angeles, CA 90048
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In a series of animal studies performed over a career spanning 40 years at the University of Sydney, Professor Marshall J. Edwards investigated the hypothesis that maternal hyperthermia during gestation can be teratogenic to the developing fetus. He is one of few investigators to have discovered a known human teratogen primarily through animal studies. In 1970 he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Sydney, writing a doctoral thesis entitled “A Study of Some Factors Affecting Fertility of Animals with Particular Reference to the Effects of Hyperthermia on Gestation and Prenatal Development of the Guinea-Pig.” He went on to prove that hyperthermia-induced malformations in animals involve many organs and structures, particularly the central nervous system. Other defects include craniofacial anomalies, heart defects and hypodactyly, cataracts and coloboma, kyphoscoliosis, renal anomalies, dental agenesis, and abdominal wall defects. In a series of carefully planned and executed experiments, he demonstrated that the type of defect is related to the timing of the hyperthermic insult, and analyzed the underlying mechanisms. Cell death, membrane disruption, vascular disruption, and placental infarction were all implicated in causing embryonic damage. This special article reviews the scientific discoveries and personal philosophy of Marshall J. Edwards, the discoverer of maternal hyperthermia as a human teratogen. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.