As part of RMA’s continued collaboration with Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, renowned fertility doctor Mark V. Sauer, M.D., M.S., Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, and Senior Associate Dean for Women’s Health at the school, has joined RMA’s flagship clinic in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
In addition to seeing patients on Tuesdays, Dr. Sauer will work to strengthen the collaborative relationship related to teaching and research between RMA and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, as well as assist RMA fellows conducting clinical investigations in the field.
“RMA is a natural fit for me,” Dr. Sauer said, “and I’m really excited to be here.”
Dr. Sauer’s illustrious career path as a fertility doctor, professor, author, academic chairperson, and consultant has taken him from the Midwest to California to New York, and, now, to New Jersey, where he has officially reconnected with RMA founding partner Dr. Richard Scott.
The two have known each other for many years, dating back to when Dr. Scott was a fellow at Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Jones Institute, which was responsible for the U.S.’s first IVF birth. More recently, Dr. Sauer and Dr. Scott worked together when Dr. Sauer was laying the foundation for the new obstetrics and gynecology department at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Prior to his joining Rutgers in 2017, Dr. Sauer spent 21 years heading up the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) at Columbia University in New York City, where he helped thousands of patients dealing with infertility. He was also the REI fellowship director at Columbia University during most of that time period. Because of Manhattan’s proximity to New Jersey – and the groundbreaking research taking place at RMA – Dr. Sauer often heard about the strides RMA was making across the Hudson.
“I have always appreciated the clinical and research enterprise that Dr. Scott and the partners established,” said Dr. Sauer. “They have consistently provided reproductive medicine with high-quality research that was superbly performed and often of ground-breaking significance. Importantly, they did so without compromising their primary mission to deliver the highest quality of fertility care to their patients.”
Dr. Sauer was so impressed with RMA that he would often recommend the RMA fellowship to OB/GYN residents training at Columbia.
“I’d put RMA at the top of any list,” he’d tell residents who came to him for advice. “I’ve always had a healthy respect for Dr. Scott and his faculty.”
A Fertility Leader
While Dr. Sauer is generous with praise for RMA, he too is an established leader in the field, having been an integral part of research teams that were among the first to make major discoveries in reproductive medicine. In fact, several of those teams ended up making history.
During his REI fellowship training at Harbor/UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Sauer worked alongside lead researchers on a groundbreaking clinical trial that resulted in the first-ever live birth from a donor embryo, a breakthrough that became international news in 1984.
“Through the prism of today’s standards and regulations, these early clinical trials seem unimaginable,” Dr. Sauer wrote in an article recently published in Fertility and Sterility. “I attribute my own intrepid spirit at that time to pure naiveté. But looking back, the work…was bold, innovative, challenging, and risky. Luckily for many, including me, the projects were sustainable, the clinical outcomes were good, and there were no major complications in the donors or the recipients. ” Further extension of this project led to the establishment of the egg donation program at the University of Southern California where successful births in fifty and sixty-year-old recipients again were breakthrough medical news events.
Another first discovered around the same time? Dr. Sauer was part of a team that identified a safe way to treat early ectopic pregnancies without surgery by prescribing patients a drug called methotrexate. Typically used to treat cancer, the drug works by killing rapidly dividing cells – a mechanism at work during embryo growth inside the fallopian tube during an ectopic pregnancy. It was a simple, yet novel, solution.
Later, in the 1990s, Dr. Sauer led researchers at Columbia University who modified the technique of sperm washing to enable HIV-positive men to have children without risking transmission of the disease in their partners and offspring. Because HIV is believed to be found in male semen, and not sperm, men with the illness could still have healthy children through a “washing” method that separated semen from sperm and injected only sperm into a woman’s uterus. Today, this innovative procedure is widely practiced and has opened up access to many patients who in the past were denied fertility care.
“I have often been the guy who would do stuff others wouldn’t do,” he said. But only if I believed in the science, of course, and felt the benefit to the patient far exceeded the risk.”
While all three aforementioned practices were once controversial, they are commonplace today, making Dr. Sauer a fertility pioneer. Yet, he remains humble.
“I would argue most everything medicine requires a group effort,” he said recently. “I’ve been blessed with some brilliant collaborators, and I love putting operational structure around an innovative idea.”
“Determining for which patients an innovative therapy will best work or how best to apply new treatments, is hugely challenging,” he added.
Indeed, structure and details are vital to success in assisted reproduction, and many of Dr. Sauer’s research accomplishments have led to more options, better access and greater success for patients around the world.
Passion for Medicine
Born in Iowa and raised in the Midwest, Dr. Sauer received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Washington University in St. Louis. He went on to attend medical school in Chicago at the University of Illinois, where he stayed to complete his OB/GYN training. Following residency, Dr. Sauer headed west to complete his fertility fellowship at Harbor/UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California. He remained in Los Angeles serving as faculty at UCLA School of Medicine and, later, the University of Southern California.
Dr. Sauer was recruited to Columbia University in 1995, serving as REI division chief and the Vice-Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He stayed there until 2017 when he decided to return to California for a short stint as a professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He was then approached to join Rutgers University as the department chair and returned “home” to New Jersey, the location where he lived and raised his four children while working in Manhattan.
Not one to stop learning, Dr. Sauer recently earned a Master of Science degree in Bioethics from Columbia University. He has been and continues to be, an active member of many committees that oversee and support ongoing research into better, safer and more advanced methods for treating infertility. In addition, he holds several leadership positions and serves as a consultant to major healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, medical institutions, and universities.
“I am truly honored and I am very excited to be part of the RMA team,” Dr. Sauer said. “RMA doctors are established leaders in the field of reproductive medicine. Their dedication to treatment and research is inspirational, and I hope to contribute to their mission of training tomorrow’s leaders through a fellowship program that is second to none.”
“What could be better?”