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The Hungarian scientist, Dr Albert Szent-Györgyi, served in World War I from 1914 to 1916 as a Hungarian medic, where he observed firsthand the horrors associated with the use of mustard gas. After the war, he developed a keen interest in finding a cure for cancer when he learned mustard gas derivatives [pre-cursors to chemotherapy] were being used as a form of treatment. His work in the field of cancer intensified after losing both his daughter and wife to the disease.
Albert Szent-Györgyi, is probably best known for being awarded the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his work on the roles played by certain organic compounds [especially vitamin C] in the oxidation of nutrients by cells. He is also noted for describing the process of cellular metabolism, known as the Szent-Györgyi/Krebs cycle (or just the Krebs cycle). As early as 1941, he was discussing the role of unpaired electrons (which we now refer to as free radicals), and their possible link to cancer, as well as the importance of certain protective enzymes and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, that can help prevent cancer.
He certainly had his share of critics, particularly when it came to his theories on cancer. After Szent-Györgyi emigrated to the US following World War II, his continuing work on cancer was based on his theory that certain naturally occurring compounds called quinones (along with similar compounds), could be instrumental in helping to control the proper metabolism in cells. As we now know, uncontrolled metabolism and rampant cell division is a defining characteristic of cancer. Szent-Györgyi noted that wheat germ is a potent source of these quinine compounds, and he suggested that they could be concentrated further through fermentation with baker’s yeast. Szent-Györgyi’s early research experiments were very promising.
His theories about specific quinines found in wheat germ, and their ability to inhibit cancer, appeared to be correct. Just as his work was gaining momentum, though, his concept of regulating metabolism to prevent or control cancer was overshadowed by the new ‘war on cancer’ and the belief at the time that cancer therapies should concentrate on killing cancer at any cost. As a result, Szent-Györgyi’s work suffered from funding problems and was largely overlooked. [As a matter of principle, he refused to accept government funding and be bound to any restrictions on his research or its outcome.] He died in 1986, with his research unfinished.
In the early 1990’s, Szent-Györgyi’s previous research in the role of natural compounds began again. Hungarian scientists resumed scientific research, building on Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s initial work to discover that fermented wheat germ extract had promising properties. Since the mid 1990’s, research has continued into a global effort, as the fermented wheat germ extract (now called Avemar) has been globally recognized, and is now the subject to over 100 scientific studies, including over 30 PubMed peer-reviewed publications.