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By Jaanus Harro

Jüri Saarma was born on October 24, 1921, in Viljandi, Estonia. He received his medical degree from the University of Tartu, in 1945. He joined the University's Department of Psychiatry as a volunteer assistant, in 1943, as a doctor and lecturer, in 1945 and was appointed as professor, in 1965. Jüri Saarma served as head of the department during 1975-1983 and also held other influential administrative positions throughout his career (Saarma 2000).

In 1952, Jüri Saarma founded a laboratory for research on higher nervous activity at the department. This, and the subsequent formation of the laboratory of experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, in 1967, were pivotal to the development of one of the most prolific medical research schools in the region, as this endeavor seamlessly complemented the psychopharmacological investigations of Lembit Allikmets and his disciples in the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Tartu.

In 1973, Saarma was a visiting professor at McGill University in Montreal. He also lectured at the universities of Helsinki, Oulu, Toronto and Turku.

Jüri Saarma’s early research was devoted to the effects of insulin therapy on autonomic nervous system (Saarma 1966). The laboratory he led contributed to characterization of the actions of a large variety of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs (Saarma 1963, 1970, 1974). Saarma was an excellent teacher and superb clinician, who published a series of textbooks in Estonian and Russian. He advanced his own variant of a nosological system of psychiatric syndromes. He aimed at personalized psychiatry by developing the highly complex Tartu Psychometric Test Battery to delineate the diagnostic profile of schizophrenias, affective and anxiety disorders and to differentiate therapeutic profiles of prototype psychotropic drugs (Saarma 1976).

Jüri Saarma died on February 7, 2001 in Tartu.

Saarma J. Trial to specify indications for treating schizophrenics on the basis of higher nervous activity data. (In Russian). Korsakoff Journal 1963; 3: 431-5.

Saarma J. Prognosis of insulin therapy in schizophrenia based on higher nervous activity data. International Journal of Psychiatry 1966; 2: 431-45.

Saarma J. The practical use of higher nervous activity data in pharmacotherapy of psychoses. International Journal of Psychobiology 1970; 1: 35-8.

Saarma J. Autonomic component of the orienting reflex in schizophrenics. Biological Psychiatry 1974; 9: 55-60.

Saarma J. The Tartu Psychometric Test Battery. In: Guy W. (Ed.) ECDEU Assessment Manual for Psychopharmacology, Revised.  Rockville: DHEW Pub No (ADM) USPGO; 1976, pp.583-603.

Saarma J. Initial period of psychopharmacotherapy in Estonia. In: Ban TA, Healy D, Shorter E (Eds.) The Triumph of Psychopharmacology and The Story of CINP, pp. 146-148. Animula, Budapest 2000.


Jaanus Harro

October 30, 2014.