Top: Mary Radcliffe; Esther Odescalchi; Bottom: Rev. Tibor Király; Joseph Kata
Dr. Abel Lajtha: Életem (My Life) – HCSC Presentation
The Hungarian Cultural Society of Cheshire, Connecticut presented a lecture by Dr. Abel Lajtha, the world-renowned brain researcher.
Richard and Mary Radcliffe of Greenwich Symphony fame, herself Hungarian-born, hosted the event in their sunny Riverside, Connecticut home on Sunday, April 22, 2018. Mary and her siblings have been lifelong friends with Abel whose composer-father gave music lessons to their family many decades ago.
Dr. Balázs Somogyi, President of HCSC, introduced the speaker, born as Lajtha Ábel in Budapest. Magyar News Online published an article: Journey into the Brain with Dr. Abel Lajtha in its September, 2017 issue to celebrate his 95th birthday.
The audience, sitting comfortably in armchairs and sofas, was mesmerized by the fascinating topic. The 95-year-old Dr. Lajtha gave a colorful account of his youth, his participation in the resistance movement against the Nazi troops, and his masterful escape from them as well as from the Soviet occupiers, including a medically unnecessary but life-saving appendectomy…
The young Ábel was determined about his future plans: he wanted to work with his idol, Nobel-laureate Szent-Görgyi Albert. Upon receiving his PhD in 1945, he started working under his mentor in Hungary, in Naples, Italy, then in London. In 1948, he gladly accepted Szent-Györgyi’s invitation to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
There they worked on muscle research. Lajtha, however, wanted to study the brain. Szent-Györgyi tried to steer him away from the most complex organ but Ábel’s attraction to his chosen focus was stronger than anything else. He left his mentor and, in 1950, started working at Columbia University on the blood-brain barrier and brain protein metabolic studies. At that time, neurochemistry as a discipline was just starting and he was a founding member of it. Since then, he spent six decades in research of various functions of this complex, elusive organ. He estimates our current progress into the field is about 5%.
A lively question-and-answer session followed Abel’s presentation. Understandably, one of the focal questions was how to keep one’s gray cells functioning into old age and how he has managed to keep himself mentally and physically healthy and fit. He claims that the brain’s alertness, fuelled by an adequate blood supply, can be maintained by exercise. He skied into his eighties and still plays singles in tennis!
Exhausting the inexhaustible question-and-answer epilogue, the audience drifted over to another room for wine and hors d’oeuvres, continuing the spirited discussion until all went home for dinner.
Abel left a bit earlier to pack for his trip to Hungary at mid-week…