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INSTITUTE OF PHYSIOLOGY CAS

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Prof. Zdeněk Servít and his work at IPHYS


At the beginning of the 1950s, Zdeněk Servít, a young associate professor of neurology, realized that he wanted to do something more than just regular clinical practice. Thus, he gathered around him a group of medical students with whom he began to study epilepsy, first statistically, however, soon also experimentally. This group formed the basis of the future first department of the Institute of Physiology of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (IP CAS), which was transferred from the Institute of Biology at the time the Institute of Physiology was founded. Associate Professor Servít became the director of the newly established Institute and headed the Institute until December 1969. In the initially unified department there were two practically separate laboratories - the one led by Prof. Servít an and another one headed by Jan Bureš. The names of the laboratories were in keeping with the times, thus they were called the laboratory of central irritation, where the studies of epilepsy (at that time, of course, reflex) were carried out, and the laboratory of central attenuation, where research on the phenomenon of spreading depression of EEG activity began under the leadership of Jan and Olga Bureš. Later the two laboratories were also separated administratively. Servít's laboratory included Jindřich Fischer, Jiří Machek, Libuše Chocholová and Alexandra Strejčková. In the autumn of 1967 Pavel Mareš joined the laboratory. Zdeněk Servít's research on epilepsy focused more and more on the phylogeny of epileptic activity, his works on epileptic seizures in various vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles) are highly original contributions to the field of science. Members of the lab worked with mammals, so the material for comparisons was available, ranging from rats to humans. Professor Servít also maintained a clinical practice, running a clinic for epileptics at the polyclinic on Charles Square. There, every week on a given day, interesting cases were discussed, including not only the symptomatology but also the treatment of these patients. As a teacher, he participated in lectures for students of the Faculty of Paediatrics (now the 2nd Faculty of Medicine), where he also received a professorship.

Zdeněk Servít soon became a full member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, where he actively participated in the work of the Council of Medical Sciences. His organizational activities were generally appreciated and in the 1960s he was considered a serious candidate for at least the vice-presidency of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The election of the new leadership of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences did not take place in 1969 because the normalisation leadership of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences was appointed, but the title of an academic was not revoked (only academics who emigrated in 1968 were stripped off of their titles). In 1968 Professor Servít signed the document '2000 words;' after the August Occupation of Czechoslovakia and the subsequent normalisation campaign, he refused to retract his signature. As a result, he was gradually stripped off of his posts. He was dismissed from his position as the Director of the Institute of Physiology in December 1969, and was then also dismissed from the leadership of the department and the laboratory. Fearing that this process would not stop, he devoted his vacation in 1970 entirely to his hobby - botany - and described an endemic plant species found only in the Giant Mountains. Prof. Servít's fears were justified - as I found out after his death when going through his estate, for more than a year he was only ever given a contract for one month at a time and was never told if the contract would be renewed, which was illegal. Fortunately, there were a number of reasonable and decent people in the management of the Institute and the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, so Prof. Servít was able to work at the IP up until his death. He continued his experimental work on turtles together with Dr. A. Strejčková - he studied the activity of epileptic foci in cortical structures and focal discharge propagation - and published the results.

Among Prof. Servít's scientific results I would like to mention two fundamental ones: the use of focal epileptic activity as an adequate model of post-traumatic epilepsy and the clinical application of preventive treatment of human head trauma. This clinical study, conducted in collaboration with Professor Popek, head of the neurology clinic at the Brno Medical School, prompted the creation of an American study determining the increasing likelihood of post-traumatic epilepsy in a large cohort of wounded American soldiers depending on the severity of their brain injuries. Prof. Servít's lecturing activity was remarkable - at regular training seminars he was able to present scientific results in a way that was understandable to outpatient neurologists who treated epileptic patients and had never come into contact with experimental work. The last point that must be mentioned was Professor Servít's respect for the Czech language. His lectures and publications in Czech were always characterized by a rich and pure Czech language.

text: Pavel Mareš