Seymour S. Kety Biography


Birthday: August 25, 1915 (Virgo)

Born In: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Seymour Kety was an American neuroscientist best known for taking a scientific approach to mental illnesses. As a teenager, Seymour had a great interest in chemistry. A foot injury caused him to spend most of his time intellectually training himself. He set up a chemistry lab in his basement during his high school years and experimented with chemicals. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, Seymour began his research on lead poisoning and came up with effective treatment through citrate. During the Second World War, however, he shifted his area of research to cerebral blood flow and its role in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. He developed a method to measure the blood flow to the brain in its remote areas, which provided modern scientists and medical researchers with easy ways to tap into the research on mental health. He revolutionized the mental health field by taking a scientific and biological approach to the ailments, rather than the commonly prevalent psychoanalytical approach. His research and works on mental diseases are regarded as the most landmark research in the field in the second half of the 20th century.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 84


Spouse/Ex-: Josephine Gross

Born Country: United States

American Men University Of Pennsylvania

Died on: May 25, 2000

place of death: Westwood, Massachusetts, United States

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

City: Philadelphia

discoveries/inventions: Measuring Blood Flow In The Brain

More Facts

education: University of Pennsylvania

Childhood & Early Life

Seymour Kety was born Seymour S. Kety on August 25, 1915, in Philadelphia, USA. He was raised in an average middle-class family. However, he grew up in an intellectually stimulating surrounding. He had a road accident as a child, which caused a debilitating physical injury to one foot. It restricted his movements greatly and hence, he could not play outside like other kids his age. He mostly spent his time reading books and further developed an interest in various areas of chemistry.

The main area of his interest remained chemistry through his teenage years. His fascination with the subject began when he was 13 years old and was gifted chemistry set by his aunt. His attraction toward chemistry thus became so strong that he developed a full-blown chemistry lab in his basement. He saved his pocket money while studying in high school to purchase chemicals from a local chemist. He would experiment on everything he learned in school, and more stuff which he read in books.

He attended one of Philadelphia's most esteemed schools named Central High School. There he found great interest in learning Greek and Latin. However, his main area of interest had become physical sciences.

Following his high school graduation, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania and studied medicine. He graduated in 1940 from college and began his internship at the Philadelphia General Hospital. Following the completion of his internship, he began his research.

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His wife Josephine was studying to become a pediatrician, which also initiated Seymour’s interest in the field. He began thinking of a career in research about children. This particular research led Seymour to bring his first major contribution to the medical world to the forefront. In the 1940s, more kids were visiting the clinics with their parents, suffering from lead poisoning. Lead poisoning was a difficult ailment to treat.

However, Seymour had gathered a lot of knowledge in chemistry during all his teen years. He applied his knowledge here and figured out that the citrate could be used to treat lead poisoning. He concluded that it was a chelating agent that could create a reaction that would take the lead come out of the body through excreta. Currently, there are many methods of lead poisoning treatments but for its time, it was a revolutionary approach that helped many parents treat their kids in an easy and cheap way.

This got Seymour furthermore interested in the field of lead poisoning. He got the fellowship to work at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, with doctor Joseph Aub, who was a well-known researcher in lead poisoning.

However, it was the early 1940s and the United States had just entered the war. Joseph shifted his focus from lead poisoning to more pressing problems at that time, hemorrhagic shock and trauma. Seymour also found an interest in the area and began his research on circulatory physiology. It led him to bring his attention to the cerebral circulation. In 1943, he returned to the University of Pennsylvania and began his research on cerebral circulation with doctor Carl Schmidt, who was a leading name in the field at that time.

He was also hired as a professor at the University, teaching pharmacology and clinical psychology. Seymour was known as a popular teacher among his students. He carried on with his work on cerebral circulation with Dr Schmidt and they tried to understand the process and how to measure the flow of blood in the brain. They both devised experiments to measure the blood flow and within a few years’ time, they succeeded. Their research in the field was considered revolutionary.

By then, the studies on mental health were limited. Seymour began working on devising what is now called the trifluoroiodomethane method. His research in the field was considered one of the most important discoveries in medical science in the second half of the 20th century. The field of psychiatry was rooted in psychoanalysis and social engineering. Only those methods were used to treat patients with debilitating mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression. Through Seymour’s research, those illnesses were now considered to be as biological in nature as a physical ailment.

In his research, Seymour noted that the human brain was only 2 percent of the total body mass and yet it consumed about 20 percent of the total oxygen. He also noted that the blood flow in the brain was severely restricted by factors such as the use of anesthesia, vascular diseases and trauma. He also made a discovery that the blood flow to the brain was not altered in the situations where one would assume it would be, such as deep sleep.

He realized that using the global method of cerebral blood flow such as the nitrous oxide method could overlook a few local changes happening in some parts of the brain. This compelled Seymour to find a way to measure the regional blood flow in the human brain, which could be the deciding factor in the study of mental illnesses. He theorized that the regional blood flow in a human can be measured by a radioactive tracer in harmony with a set of external detectors. He was proven right.

After conducting his experiments, Seymour further succeeded in proving that the change in the cerebral blood flow was impacting the brain activity and hence, the metabolism of the brain. This was pathbreaking research, which paved the way for another research he conducted in the 1960s.

He researched the genetic aspects of mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia. Before that, it was thought that poor parenting and childhood traumas led to mental illnesses later in life. He concluded that genetics played a big role in a person developing schizophrenia. He thus played a big role in the medical world taking the biological aspects of mental illnesses seriously.

While he had no formal training in psychiatry, his research in the field made him hold the leadership position at the psychiatry department of the John Hopkins Hospital. He was also made the first scientific director of NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health, which was founded in 1949.

In addition, he also served as a founding member of the World Cultural Council in 1981.

Seymour also won several prestigious awards in psychiatry from many organizations such as the American Society of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Association and the National Academy of Sciences.

Personal Life & Death

Seymour Kety married Josephine Gross right after he graduated from medical school. She was a childhood friend of his. The couple had two children together.

Seymour passed away on May 25, 2000. The cause of his death was not reported. He was 84 years old at the time of his demise.

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