Endre “Andrew” Czeizel

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 19 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5509
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. 1Hamburg
  1. ns{at}
Mohai Balázs/MTI

Life in Hungary was bleak in 1959 when Endre Czeizel, at the age of 24, began his career as a doctor and medical researcher at Budapest’s National Institute of Hygiene. Czeizel, like millions of others at the time, was working behind the so called iron curtain, the political boundary between democratic western Europe and the Soviet controlled communist countries of eastern Europe. Just three years earlier the Soviet army had crushed an uprising of Hungarians seeking independence and freedom. Thousands of Hungarians were wounded and killed. After defeat, hundreds were executed and thousands imprisoned.

By the early 1960s Czeizel, who had trained in gynaecology and obstetrics, had become fascinated with the emerging specialism of medical genetics. Isolated from the West, Czeizel was hungry for information. He had a good command of the English language and monitored, as best as he could, international research into medical genetics.

He persevered over the next three decades and was able to overcome huge difficulties not faced by medical geneticists in the West. On Christmas Eve 1992 he was rewarded with the publication of his most influential study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The landmark paper confirmed that the risk of neural tube birth defects can be reduced if mothers take folic acid during the periconceptional period—that is, shortly before conception and during early pregnancy.1

Pierpaolo Mastroiacovo, director of the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Surveillance and Research in Rome, says of Czeizel: “He will be remembered …

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