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World-Famous Hungarian Geneticist Endre Czeizel Dies

Ferenc Sullivan 2015.08.10.

Endre Czeizel, the world-famous Hungarian doctor and geneticist, has died at the age of eighty-one following a long battle with leukaemia in the early hours of Monday, his daughter told the state news agency MTI.

Born in Budapest in 1935, Mr. Czeizel graduated at Budapest’s Semmelweis University of Medicine in 1959 and worked as a researcher at the National Institute of Public Health right up to 1996. Until 1973, he also worked part-time as a family planning counsellor at St. John’s hospital in Budapest, then progressing to become chief medical officer of the laboratory – later department – of human genetics and teratology. He was appointed director-general of the National Institute for Health Protection in 1996 and retired in 1998.

Envisaging his career at first as a gynaecologist, his life took a sharp turn im 1965, with the acceptance of genetic research in the Socialist bloc. Speaking earlier to the news magazine HVG, he recognised that genetics provide the best opportunities to save embryos’ lives after attending a training held by Danish experts. From there on, his chief area of reseach became the research and prevention of congenital irregularities. Professor Czeizel discovered that the so-called foetus protection vitamin – comprised chiefly of vitamin B9 – prevents or reduces the development of serious congenital diseases, resulting in an open spine or defective skull, which he saw as the most important result of his work. For this discovery, he was given the Kennedy Award in the United States in the year 2000. The professor was the first researcher to prove that an appropriate combination of vitamins provides up to 90% protection against such developmental abnormalities, especially if taken as early as some months prior to contraception. The results of his research were published in a joint article with fellow Hungarian gynaecologist István Dudás in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the world’s top medical journals, in 1992.

An author of close to two dozen books, his most successful works over the past years researched the ancestry of famous people. Among several other decorations, he received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 1995 and the Commander’s Cross in 2005. He was awarded the Széchenyi Prize for this life work in 2014; however, what meant most to him was assisting tens of thousands of women in having a healthy child, he once explained.

photo: MTI