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Albert Szent-Györgyi

Albert Szent-Györgyi at the time of his
appointment to the National Institutes of Health
Born September 16, 1893(1893-09-16)
Budapest, Hungary, Austria-Hungary
Died October 22, 1986 (aged 93)
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Citizenship United States of America
Nationality Hungarian
Fields physiology
Known for vitamin C, discovering the components
and reactions of the citric acid cycle
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937
The native form of this personal name is nagyrápolti Szent-Györgyi Albert. This article uses the Western name order.

Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt (September 16, 1893 – October 22, 1986) was a Hungarian physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937. He is credited with discovering vitamin C and the components and reactions of the citric acid cycle. He was also active in the Hungarian Resistance during World War II and entered Hungarian politics after the war.


Life in Hungary

Szent-Györgyi was born in Budapest, Hungary. His father, Miklós Szent-Györgyi, was a landowner. His mother, Jozefin, was a daughter of József Lenhossék and a sister of Mihály Lenhossék; both of these men were Professors of Anatomy at the University of Budapest. Szent-Györgyi began his studies at the Budapest Medical School, but soon became bored with classes and began research in his uncle's anatomy lab. His studies were interrupted in 1914 to serve as an army medic in World War I. In 1916, disgusted with the war, Szent-Györgyi shot himself in the arm, claimed to be wounded from enemy fire, and was sent home on medical leave. He was then able to finish his medical education and receive his MD in 1917. He married Kornélia Demény, the daughter of the Hungarian Postmaster General that same year. She accompanied him to his next position at an army clinic in northern Italy.

After the war, Szent-Györgyi began his research career in Pressburg (Hungarian: Pozsony, today: Bratislava). When the city became part of Czechoslovakia in January 1919, he left the town as did a portion of the Hungarian population. He switched universities several times over the next few years, finally ending up at the University of Groningen, where his work focused on the chemistry of cellular respiration. This work landed him a position as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at Cambridge University. He received his PhD from Cambridge in 1927 for his work on isolating what he then called "hexuronic acid" from adrenal gland tissue.

He accepted a position at the University of Szeged in 1931. There, Szent-Györgyi and his research fellow Joseph Svirbely found that "hexuronic acid" was actually vitamin C (the L-enantiomer of ascorbic acid) and noted its anti-scorbutic activity. In some experiments they used paprika as the source for their vitamin C. Also during this time, Szent-Györgyi continued his work on cellular respiration, identifying fumaric acid and other steps in what would become known as the Krebs cycle.

In 1937, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "For his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion process with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid". In 1938, he began work on the biophysics of muscle movement. He found that muscles contain actin, which when combined with the protein myosin and the energy source ATP, contract muscle fibers.

As fascists gained control of politics in Hungary, Szent-Györgyi helped his Jewish friends escape from the country. During World War II, he joined the Hungarian resistance movement. Although Hungary was allied with the Axis Powers, the Hungarian prime minister Miklós Kállay sent Szent-Györgyi to Cairo in 1944 under the guise of a scientific lecture to begin secret negotiations with the Allies. The Germans learned of this plot, and Adolf Hitler himself issued a warrant for the arrest of Szent-Györgyi. He escaped house arrest and spent 1944 to 1945 as a fugitive from the Gestapo.

After the war, Szent-Györgyi was well-recognized as a public figure and there was some speculation that he might become President of Hungary, should the Soviets permit it. Szent-Györgyi established a lab at the University of Budapest and became head of the biochemistry department there. He was elected as a member of Parliament and helped re-establish the Academy of Sciences. Dissatisfied with the Communist rule of Hungary, he emigrated to the United States in 1947.

Move to the United States

In 1947, Szent-Györgyi established the Institute for Muscle Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts with financial support from Hungarian businessman Stephen Rath. However, Szent-Györgyi still faced funding difficulties for several years, due to his foreign status and former association with the government of a Communist nation. In 1948, he received a research position with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland and began dividing his time between there and Woods Hole. In 1950, grants from the Armour Meat Company and the American Heart Association allowed him to establish the Institute for Muscle Research.

During the 1950s, Szent-Györgyi began using electron microscopes to study muscles at the subunit level. He received the Lasker Award in 1954. In 1955, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1956.

In the late 1950s, Szent-Györgyi developed a research interest in cancer and developed ideas on applying the theories of quantum physics to the biochemistry of cancer. The death of Rath, who had acted as the financial administrator of the Institute for Muscle Research, left Szent-Györgyi in a financial mess. Szent-Györgyi refused to submit government grants which required him to provide minute details on exactly how he intended to spend the research dollars and what he expected to find. After Szent-Györgyi commented on his financial hardships in a 1971 newspaper interview, attorney Franklin Salisbury contacted him and later helped him establish a private nonprofit organization, the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Late in life, Szent-Györgyi began to pursue free radicals as a potential cause of cancer. He came to see cancer as being ultimately an electronic problem at the molecular level. In 1974, reflecting his interests in quantum physics, he proposed the term "syntropy" replace the term "negentropy". Ralph Moss, a protegé of his in the years he performed his cancer research, wrote a biography entitled: "Free Radical: Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and the Battle over Vitamin C", ISBN 0-913729-78-7, (1988), Paragon House Publishers, New York.

He died in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on October 22, 1986.

Works Online

  • "Teaching and the Expanding Knowledge", in Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 1965). 24-28. (Reprinted from Science, Vol. 146, No. 3649 [December 4, 1965]. 1278-1279.)


  • On Oxidation, Fermentation, Vitamins, Health, and Disease (1940)
  • Bioenergetics (1957)
  • Introduction to a Submolecular Biology (1960)
  • The Crazy Ape (1970)
  • Electronic Biology and Cancer: A New Theory of Cancer (1976)
  • The living state (1972)
  • Bioelectronics: a study in cellular regulations, defense and cancer
  • Lost in the Twentieth Century (1963)


  • US National Library of Medicine. The Albert Szent-Györgyi Papers.NIH Profiles in Science
  • Ralph Moss (1988). Free Radical Albert Szent-Györgyi and the Battle over Vitamin C. Paragon House Publishers. ISBN 0913729787.  
  • Szolcsányi, János (October 2007). "[Memories of Albert Szent-Györgyi in 1943 about the beginning of his research and about his mentor, Géza Mansfeld]". Orvosi hetilap 148 (42): 2007–11. doi:10.1556/OH.2007.H2142. PMID 17932008.  
  • Juhász-Nagy, Sándor (March 2002). "[Albert Szent-Györgyi--biography of a free genius]". Orvosi hetilap 143 (12): 611–4. PMID 11963399.  
  • Vértes, L (December 2000). "[László Németh and Albert Szent-Györgyi. Honoring anniversaries]". Orvosi hetilap 141 (52): 2831–3. PMID 11202120.  
  • Kyle, R A; Shampo M A (July 2000). "Albert Szent-Györgyi--Nobel laureate". Mayo Clin. Proc. 75 (7): 722. PMID 10907388.  
  • Manchester, K L (January 1998). "Albert Szent-Györgyi and the unravelling of biological oxidation". Trends Biochem. Sci. 23 (1): 37–40. doi:10.1016/S0968-0004(97)01167-5. PMID 9478135.  
  • Gábor, M (January 1996). "[Albert Szent-Györgyi and flavonoid research]". Orvosi hetilap 137 (2): 83–4. PMID 8721874.  
  • Nagy, I Z (1995). "Semiconduction of proteins as an attribute of the living state: the ideas of Albert Szent-Györgyi revisited in light of the recent knowledge regarding oxygen free radicals". Exp. Gerontol. 30 (3-4): 327–35. doi:10.1016/0531-5565(94)00043-3. PMID 7556511.  
  • Zallár, A; Szabó T (April 1989). "Habent sua fata libelli: the adventurous story of Albert Szent-Györgyi's book entitled Studies on Muscle (1945)". Acta Physiol. Scand. 135 (4): 423–4. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08599.x. PMID 2660487.  
  • Szilárd, J (May 1988). "[The Nobel prize. (Pro memoria Albert Szent-Györgyi). The University of Szeged Medical School named after Albert Szent-Györgyi]". Orvosi hetilap 129 (18): 949–50. PMID 3290769.  
  • Szabó, T; Zallár A, Zallár I (1988). "Albert Szent-Györgyi in Szeged". Geographia medica 18: 153–6. PMID 3049243.  
  • Banga, I (January 1987). "[In memory of Albert Szent-Györgyi]". Orvosi hetilap 128 (2): 97–8. PMID 3547244.  
  • Cohen, S S (1987). "Thoughts on the later career of Albert Szent-Gyorgyi". Acta Biochim. Biophys. Hung. 22 (2-3): 141–8. PMID 3118622.  
  • Straub, F B (1987). "The charismatic teacher at Szeged: Albert Szent-Györgyi". Acta Biochim. Biophys. Hung. 22 (2-3): 135–9. PMID 3118621.  
  • "[Salute to the 90-year old Albert Szent-Györgyi]". Orvosi hetilap 124 (40): 2435–6. October 1983. PMID 6369221.  
  • Bendiner, E (May 1982). "Albert Szent-Györgyi: the art in being wrong". Hospital practice (Hospital ed.) 17 (5): 179–84, 185–6, 192. PMID 7044943.  
  • Szállási, A (February 1980). "[Albert Szent-Györgyi in the journal Nyugat]". Orvosi hetilap 121 (8): 468. PMID 6992048.  
  • Holden, C (February 1979). "Albert-Szent-Györgyi, electrons, and cancer". Science 203 (4380): 522–4. doi:10.1126/science.366748. PMID 366748.  
  • Süle, T (December 1977). "[Albert Szent-Györgyi in Hungarian numismatics]". Orvosi hetilap 118 (52): 3170–1. PMID 341025.  
  • Szállási, A (November 1977). "[Albert Szent-Györgyi was awarded the Nobel Prize 40 years ago]". Orvosi hetilap 118 (46): 2782–3. PMID 335333.  
  • Kardos, I (1975). "A talk with Albert Szent-Györgyi". The New Hungarian quarterly 16 (57): 136–50. PMID 11635455.  
  • Szállási, A (December 1974). "[2 interesting early articles by Albert Szent-Györgyi]". Orvosi hetilap 115 (52): 3118–9. PMID 4612454.  
  • Kenéz, J (December 1973). "[Eventful life of a scientist. 80th birthday of Nobel prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi]". Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift (1950) 115 (51): 2324–6. PMID 4589872.  
  • Miura, Y (December 1969). "[Doctor Albert von Szent-Gyoergyi]". Nippon Ishikai zasshi. Journal of the Japan Medical Association 62 (11): 1164–8. PMID 4903813.  
  • Kenéz, J (December 1968). "[Albert Szent-Györgyi is 75 years old]". Orvosi hetilap 109 (50): 2777–81. PMID 4887815.  
  • Sulek, K (May 1968). "[Nobel prize for Albert Szant-Györgyi in 1937 for studies on the metabolic processes, particularly of vitamin C and catalysis of fumaric acid]". Wiad. Lek. 21 (10): 911. PMID 4875831.  

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