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Early development of in vivo NMR spectroscopy and simultaneous NAD/NADH fluorometry at the Johnson Research Foundation: How Brit's science and humanity changed my life

Laszlo Gyulai / Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania

29 May 2011

I worked at the Johnson Research Foundation with Brit between 1980 and 1985 as a research associate. Through Brit's and my Hungarian mentor Dr. Arisztid Kovach's collaboration I started my in vivo NAD/NADH fluorometry studies in Hungary on an instrument that was manufactured at the JF. The instrument brought Brit's spirit of science to Budapest and there was never a day when we had not been talking about this enigmatic, brilliant man, Britton Chance. I met Brit first in Hungary where I noticed his extraordinary focus, efficiency and depth of his thinking, As a young physiologist, my dream then became to work with him.

In 1980, I arrived to the JF. To my personal misfortune, I fell gravely ill in 2 months after my arrival. I went through prolonged treatment at the Hospital of University of Penn. I can still hear Brit telling me: "Laci, whenever your well enough to work just show up". So I did. To this day I remain eternally grateful that he – in his unique acerbic way – gave meaning to my life when it was it was at its most challenging point.

Then I proposed to combine in vivo phosphorus NMR spectroscopy and NAD/NADH fluorometry to characterize mitochondrial function in the brain using a model of hypoxia. He felt the project was ambitious but he fully supported it – and we succeeded.

Our other projects were the development of P NMR spectroscopy on larger animals. We were successful again. Later we combined P NMR and H NMR spectroscopy studying brain hypoxia. We identified the major constituent of the phosphor-monoester peak of P NMR in the brain. We then studied the phospho-energetics of oxidative phosphorylation in isolated mitochondria using NMR spectroscopy analogous with in vivo conditions.

I left the JF to become a psychiatrist in 1985. Even with the passage of 25 years, I have missed the JF and working with a great man like Brit. As a psychiatrist I studied brain lithium levels and started cerebral blood flow imaging in patients with bipolar disorder. Brit’s rigorous use of the scientific method and hypothesis testing has remained the most important and enduring aspect of Brit's mentorship for me, not only in my scientific research but also in my clinical work with psychiatric patients.

Brit's crew at the JF was permeated with his indomitable spirit: Jack Leigh, Alan McLaughlin, Harihara Subramanian, Mitch Schnall, Lizann Bollinger, John Haselgrove, Ziggy Roth, Clyde Barlow, Alan Bonner, John Sorge, Scott Eleff, Dan Safer, and countless others made my life at the JF the most memorable period of my life as a scientist.

– Laszlo Gyulai