Róbert Bárány was an Austro-Hungarian otologist whose work on physiology and pathology of the human vestibular apparatus that is the sensory system of the inner ear won him the ‘Nobel Prize for Physiology’ or Medicine in 1914. During the ‘First World War’, he served as a civilian surgeon for the Austrian Army and when the ‘Nobel Prize’ was conferred upon him in 1914, he was captured and held as a prisoner by the Russian Army in a war camp prison. He could receive the award in 1916. New tests were conceived by Bárány for detection of vestibular ailments and for investigating the activities of one of the regions of the brain called cerebellum and its connection with disruption of equilibrium. Since 1917 until his death he served the ‘Uppsala University, first as a physicist and later as the Professor and Director of the Otology Department of the university. During the later stage of his life he examined the reasons for muscular rheumatism. He received several awards and recognition including the title of ‘Dozent’ in 1909, the ‘ERB Medal’ by the ‘German Neurological Society’ in 1913 and the ‘Guyot Prize’ in 1914.
- He was born on April 22, 1876, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in a Hungarian-Jew family to Ignáz Bárány and Maria Hock as their eldest child among six children. His father was an estate manager and bank official and his mother was the daughter of a renowned Prague scientist.He suffered from tuberculosis of the bones as a young kid that caused ankylosis resulting into permanent stiffness of his knee joint. Presumably this illness invoked in him an interest in the subject of medicine. However, the disability could not restrict him either from walking in the hills or from playing tennis.He was a brilliant student and remained in top form all through his school and college life.He studied medicine at the ‘University of Vienna’ and on April 2, 1900, he received his doctorate degree.He then moved to Frankfurt am Main where he joined ‘Städtisches Krankenhaus’ as an assistant to Professor Carl Harko von Noorden and received training in internal medicine for a year.Thereafter till April 1902, he studied at the psychiatric-neurological clinic in Heidelberg and at the neurological clinic in Freiburg im Breisgau of Professor Emil Kracpelin. During this period he developed an interest in neurological problems.After returning to Vienna he came under the guidance of Professor Carl Gussenauer and received surgical training at the latter’s surgical clinic at the Vienna General Hospital.Career
- On October 3, 1903, he was appointed as demonstrator in the ‘Otological Clinic’ of the ‘University of Vienna’, where he worked under Professor Adam Politzer, who was the founder of otology in Austria.He was fascinated by the rhythmic nystagmus produced when fluid was syringed in the ear and found out that it was associated with temperature of fluid and thus investigated the aspects that govern labyrinthine stimulation.He had this observation while he was serving as a doctor in Vienna. One day while he syringed a cold fluid into the external auditory canal of a patient in order to relieve the latter from giddy spells, he observed that the latter experienced nystagmus as well as vertigo. He then syringed warm fluid and observed that the patient still experienced nystagmus but this time on the opposite direction.These observations led him to theorize that the endolymph, a fluid present in the membranous labyrinth of the inner ear, was falling when in cold state and rising in warm state and its flowing direction was giving proprioceptive signal to the vestibular organ. In this regard he conducted a series of experiments, which he termed as the caloric reaction. His contributing research work paved way for surgical treatment of vestibular organ diseases.However a question always did the rounds in Vienna as to who made the observations first, as it was considered that Bárány initiated on the labyrinth after witnessing such demonstrations on experimental animals by Alexander Spitzer.He examined the aspects of equilibrium controls, function of human ear in maintenance of equilibrium and activities of cerebellum in this regard. Many other theoretical workers prior to Bárány like Josef Breuer, Ernst Mach and Pierre Flourens researched on the organ of equilibrium using pigeons and rabbits.The significant contribution made by him was the clinical use of these investigating data on human body leading to development of procedures in examining the equilibrium system of human being. Though it was known that this apparatus respond to rotary sensations, he found out the laws that govern the rotary reactions.During the ‘First World War’, in 1914, regardless of his physical disability due to ankylosis, he voluntarily joined the Austrian Army and served as a civilian surgeon. He was captured and incarcerated at a war camp prison by the Russian Army.He was released in 1916 after Prince Carl of Sweden intervened on behalf of the ‘Red Cross’ and persuaded the Czar for his release.During his trip to Sweden to receive the ‘Nobel Prize’ from the King of Sweden at Stockholm, he was invited by the ‘University of Uppsala’ to take the chair of otology. He joined the university in 1917 first as a Privatdozent and titular professor and later in 1926 became the Professor and Director of its Otology Department. He went on to serve the university until his death.He attained much recognition as a capable surgeon for sinus disorders, cerebral abscesses and deafness. His reputation was further enhanced in Sweden due to his humanist, pacifist and philanthropist activities. His encouragement and instigation saw the formation of the ‘International Academy of Politics and Social Science for the Promotion of World Peace’ in Sweden, in 1929.He investigated the causes of muscular rheumatism in the later stage of his life and worked on a book on this subject. Around 184 scientific papers were published by him.He held membership and honorary membership in many scientific societies.The ‘University of Stockholm’ bestowed him with an honorary doctorate.Awards & Achievements
- He was awarded the ‘Nobel Prize for Physiology’ or Medicine in 1914. However due to his incarceration in a war camp prison by the Russian Army, he received the prize from the King of Sweden at Stockholm in 1916 after his release.Personal Life & Legacy
- In 1909 he married Ida Felicitas Berger and the couple was blessed with two sons and a daughter.His eldest son Ernst Herbert Bárány was born on August 8, 1910. Ernst was a physician and a Professor of Pharmacology at the ‘University of Uppsala’ and also a member of the ‘Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences’.His second son Franz Barany, born on May 28, 1914, was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the ‘Caroline Institute’, Stockholm.His only daughter Ingrid was born on January 3, 1918 and she went on to become a psychiatrist.After suffering from thalamic pain for a year and a half, Bárány passed away in Uppsala on April 8, 1936.His grandson Anders Bárány from his eldest son Ernst is a scientist in the field of theoretical physics. From 1989 to 2003 Anders served as secretary of the Nobel committee in physics.
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