Milan Henzl, developer of medicine for women's health, dies at 77

Milan Henzl

Memorial services will be held the afternoon of Oct. 12 for Milan R. Henzl, MD, PhD, a former professor of obstetrics and gynecology who was an early leader in the field of hormonal contraception. He died from cancer Sept. 26 at the age of 77.

Henzl helped in the development of the “mini-pill,” a low-dose oral contraceptive; the anti-fungal drug Femstat, and Synarel, a treatment for endometriosis. He was among the first scientists to conduct clinical trials showing that the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen sodium (now sold over the counter as Aleve) could be used to relieve menstrual pain.

“Henzl was one of the pioneers in the field of hormonal contraception,” said Maurice Druzin, professor and acting chair of obstetrics and gynecology. “He contributed greatly to safe contraceptive methods for women around the world. His insight and scientific curiosity will be sorely missed.”

Over the course of his professional life, Henzl published 140 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, along with 14 books, monographs and textbook chapters. In 2000, he received the Trapl Memorial Award and Medal for research and preventive medicine.

Henzl was a native of Czechoslovakia, and as a teenager during World War II he worked to rescue bodies from destroyed buildings. After the war, he graduated from medical school at Palacky University and earned a PhD from Charles University in Prague.

He came to the Bay Area in the 1960s, as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and Syntex Corp. of Palo Alto. He had planned to return to his homeland, but decided to stay when the Soviet Union invaded his country in 1968. He went on to become professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford and executive medical director at Syntex, which was acquired by Hoffman La Roche in 1994. He retired in 1996.

Henzl is survived by his wife Vera M. Henzl of Palo Alto; daughter, Renata Henzl Mullen of Menlo Park; son, David Henzl of San Anselmo, and six grandchildren.

The memorial service will be at 2 p.m., Oct. 12, at Memorial Church.

The Henzl family has asked that those wishing to make donations in Henzl’s memory send checks to the Helena Henzl Memorial Fund for Young Women in Science, Office of Medical Development, 770 Welch Rd., Suite 400, Stanford, CA 94305. This fund was founded in memory of Henzl’s daughter who died in 1987.


Aditi Risbud is a science-writing intern in the Office of Communication & Public Affairs at the School of Medicine.