Dr Jesse Olszynko-Gryn

Strathclyde Chancellor's Fellow


Personal statement

I am a historian of science, technology and medicine, with a particular interest in reproductive technologies. As co-lead on the internationally collaborative research project, Risky Hormones (2020-25), and Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Lyon (2022-23), I work with patient groups and other partners to historically investigate the contested use and regulation of medicines in pregnancy and the risk of birth defects. My book reconstructs the remarkable transformation of pregnancy testing from an esoteric laboratory service to a commonplace of everyday life. At the University of Strathclyde, I co-convene the Disability Research Group.


The Duogynon controversy and ignorance production in post-thalidomide West Germany
Nemec Birgit, Olszynko-Gryn Jesse
Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online Vol 14, pp. 75-86 (2022)
Filming fly eggs : time-lapse cinematography as an intermedial practice
Olszynko-Gryn Jesse
Isis Vol 112, pp. 307-314 (2021)
Predictor : the first home pregnancy test
Olszynko-Gryn Jesse
Journal of British Studies Vol 59, pp. 638-642 (2020)
Predictor, Montreal, and Meg Crane : a very brief history of pregnancy testing in Canada
Olszynko-Gryn Jesse
The Osler Library Newsletter Vol 132, pp. 6-7 (2020)
The feminist appropriation of pregnancy testing in 1970s Britain
Olszynko-Gryn Jesse
Women's History Review Vol 28, pp. 869-894 (2019)
Reproductive politics in twentieth-century France and Britain
Olszynko-Gryn Jesse, Rusterholz Caroline
Medical History Vol 63, pp. 117-133 (2019)

More publications

Professional activities

Pregnancy testing and moral panic in permissive Britain
Filming fly eggs: time-lapse cinematography as an intermedial practice
Expert witnessing
MPhil examiner
Birth control in Britain before and after 'the pill'
University of New South Wales (UNSW) (External organisation)

More professional activities


The Dépakine affair: Communicating reproductive risk in post-thalidomide France
Olszynko-Gryn, Jesse (Principal Investigator)
Today, Dépakine is an embattled drug. Sanofi, the manufacturer, is facing a class action in France, and a Paris court recently held the company liable for failing in its duty of care. This project is the first to historically investigate Dépakine (sodium valproate), an anti-convulsant drug that, if taken in pregnancy, also causes neurodevelopmental impairments. It focuses on the crucial role played in Lyon in the 1970s by REMERA (Registre des Malformations en Rhône-Alpes) in evidencing fetal harm. Examining Dépakine situates France, and more specifically Lyon, in the historical understanding of persistent tensions between reproductive rights and disability rights in contemporary Europe. By collaborating with patients (women with epilepsy who took Dépakine while pregnant), the project also contributes to the development of a more inclusive mode of historical research within science studies. Beyond compensation and justice for the families, at stake are fundamental issues regarding the production and communication of biomedical knowledge about reproductive risk in the post-thalidomide world.
08-Jan-2022 - 31-Jan-2023
Risky hormones, pregnant patients and the contested science of birth defects: the rise and fall of hormone pregnancy tests in the FRG and UK, 1950-81
Olszynko-Gryn, Jesse (Principal Investigator)
This project examines, in collaboration with patient groups, the rise and fall of Primodos and other hormone pregnancy tests (HPTs).

Today it may be difficult to believe that doctors ever prescribed pills as pregnancy tests. However, between the 1950s and 1980s, millions of women worldwide were given HPTs: diagnostic drugs that ruled out gestation by inducing menstrual-like bleeding (a ‘negative’ result; no bleeding implied pregnancy). HPTs were first marketed by the West German pharmaceutical company Schering AG (now Bayer) in 1950. Compositionally similar to oral contraceptives, they prefigured ‘the pill’ by about a decade.

Starting in 1967, HPTs came under suspicion; initially for causing spina bifida and then for inducing miscarriage and a range of birth defects akin to those caused by thalidomide, the notorious sedative that was also used to treat morning sickness. In 1978, the British and West German parents of malformed children whose mothers had taken HPTs while pregnant organised to take legal action against Schering. Although HPTs have not been available for decades, new archival findings and scientific evidence have revitalised long dormant patient-led campaigns in Britain and Germany. Against a backdrop of persistent media interest, continuing scientific research, and resumed litigation, our project will cut through the polemic to produce at a subtler, more nuanced historical understanding of HPTs. It will also seek to better understand the West German origins of oral contraception as well as international debates over the use and regulation of drugs in pregnancy and the spectre of birth defects after thalidomide.
01-Jan-2020 - 31-Jan-2025
Pregnancy testing over the counter, in activism, and at home: Britain, 1970–2015
Olszynko-Gryn, Jesse (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2015 - 01-Jan-2019

More projects