Dr. Luigi Mastroianni Jr., 83 years old, an internationally recognized pioneer in reproductive biology and a former chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, died on November 25, of cardiac failure after a series of successful valve replacements and repairs spanning the past 26 years. As the William Goodell Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, he continued to demonstrate his strong commitment to research, teaching, and clinical care for his patients and to serve as an advocate for women's health into this decade. As recently as May of this year, Dr. Mastroianni was awarded a master of science degree in bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania after returning to the classroom as a student to determine if anyone had codified his philosophical questions and answers in the reproductive sciences.
Dr. Mastroianni received his AB degree in zoology from Yale University in 1946 in his hometown of New Haven, where his parents both practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 50 years. He earned his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine in 1950. He completed his internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Metropolitan Hospital in New York, followed by a fellowship in fertility and endocrinology at the Harvard Medical School and the Free Hospital for Women in Boston. As an instructor and assistant professor at Yale's School of Medicine, he began his pioneering research on the basic physiology of the rabbit and monkey oviduct by characterizing its metabolism and the nature and timing of its secretions, processes critical to successful conception. He also contributed to the understanding of how the sperm gets access to the egg. After five years at Yale he was appointed professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California in Los Angeles and chief of ob/gyn at Harbor Hospital, where he continued his research.
In 1965, Dr. Mastroianni was selected to become the William Goodell Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania and chairman of the department. During his tenure as chair, he established both the division of reproductive biology and the division of human reproduction, examples of his commitment to translating basic knowledge into clinical care. Through these initiatives and through the training and recruitment of promising young physicians and scientists, he built one of the best research programs in women’s health; to this day, it continues to be among the top NIH-funded programs of its kind in the nation. His vision and leadership are acknowledged by many to have shaped obstetrics and gynecology into an academic as well as a clinical specialty. After more than 20 years as chairman of the department, he assumed the leadership of the division of human reproduction and continued to play a major role in training the next generation of physicians, which was one of his passions. Over the years, physicians and scientists from more than 25 countries came through Dr. Mastroianni’s department at Penn, many of whom subsequently rose to major leadership positions in the field of reproductive medicine in the United States, sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America, and Japan.
Dr. Mastroianni is paired with historical moments and figures in the field of human reproduction. In the early 1950s, as a research fellow with Dr. John Rock, he worked on the early development of the birth control pill. In 1959, he gave sex researchers Masters and Johnson their first public forum at a national fertility conference. In the 1970s Dr. Mastroianni and his colleagues helped to advance the field of in vitro fertilization through their research and, in 1983, he performed the first successful human in vitro fertilization in the Greater Philadelphia region. In 1989, in recognition of their research contributions leading to clinical human in vitro fertilization, Dr. Mastroianni and Dr. Robert Edwards of the University of Cambridge shared the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine (Edwards and Steptoe were responsible for the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown). In 1992, the Society for the Study of Reproduction presented Dr. Mastroianni with its Distinguished Service Award, given to “an individual who has provided outstanding and unselfish service and leadership to the field of reproductive biology.”
In 1993, he was inducted into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. That same year the Luigi Mastroianni Jr. Professorship in Obstetrics & Gynecology was created at Penn’s School of Medicine. That led to the unusual situation of Luigi Mastroianni himself and the professor holding the endowed chair in his name both working at Penn. In 1998, Penn established the Luigi Mastroianni Jr. Clinical Innovator Award, given annually to a Penn Medicine physician who has made significant contributions toward the invention and development of new techniques, approaches, procedures, or devices that change medical practice and are of major benefit to patient care. His other honors include the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Career Achievement Award of the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Gynecologic Investigation and the Ortho Medal from the American Society for the Study of Sterility. He served as president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, as well as editor in chief of the society’s journal, Fertility & Sterility. In recognition of his leadership in shaping the research agenda in reproductive medicine, he was appointed to the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the NIH. Throughout his career, he was an author and co-author of numerous scientific articles and books.
Dr. Mastroianni was also honored by the popular media, named frequently as one of the "Best Doctors in America" and one of Philadelphia Magazine’s "Top Docs." On the occasion of his becoming emeritus in 2006, it was noted that the Philadelphia area and many parts of the world are “populated with grateful families and offspring resulting from his expertise.
Beyond his scientific expertise and his skill in training physician-scientists, Dr. Mastroianni was an eloquent advocate for reproductive biology and women’s reproductive rights. When he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the Society for the Study of Reproduction, this side of Dr. Mastroianni was specifically addressed: "He has been particularly effective in promoting the science of reproductive biology to the public at large, . . . as ours is the field of scientific endeavor most often misunderstood by the general public."
Dr. Mastroianni is survived by his wife, Dr. Elaine C. Pierson Mastroianni; three children, John, Anna, and Robert; and seven grandchildren; and his sister, Ann Rentoumis. A private service is planned.