In Memory of Costas Stefanis
Dr. Costas Stefanis, a member of INHN, passed away Oct. 29, 2016, at age 88. Born in 1928, Stefanis received his MD from the University of Athens medical school in 1953 and was trained in psychiatry and neurology at the Eginition University Hospital, also in Athens.
In 1955, Stefanis collaborated in the first clinical study with chlorpromazine in Greece and, in late 1957, impressed by Roland Kuhn’s presentation at the 2nd World Congress of Psychiatry, set up the first clinical trial in Greece with imipramine. It was conducted at the Evangelismos Hospital in Athens in collaboration with S. Scarpalezos and N. Nicolaides. The findings were reported in 1959 in Hospital Annals, one of the leading Greek medical journals at the time (Scarpalezos, Stefanis, Nicolaides 1959). In his autobiographic account published in 2002, Stefanis described his imipramine study as follows:
“The study included 47 patients and it took us about 16 months to complete. We used inclusion criteria, doses and a medication schedule similar to those described by Kuhn in ` his first report. Assessment of changes were carried out by two psychiatrists independently twice a week and the duration of treatment varied from six to ten weeks. In addition to the clinical assessments we performed a comprehensive battery of laboratory tests with EEG recordings prior to the beginning and at the termination of drug administration. Considering that serotonin might be involved in depression and in the therapeutic effect of imipramine we measured the levels of 5-hydrocyindoleacetic acid, the final metabolic end-product of serotonin, in the cerebrospinal fluid of our patients. The findings of our study, presented in our paper on the differential effect of imipramine in the various types of depression, on the onset of imipramine’s action, and on its main side effects, had stood the scrutiny of time” (Stefanis, 2002).
During the same years the imipramine study was conducted, Stefanis set up a psychopharmacology laboratory at the hospital to record cortical EEG in the rabbit before and after the injection of psychotropic drugs. By the end of the 1950s, research in the laboratory was extended to recording events simultaneously in the hippocampus, thalamus and basal ganglia with a stereotactic multiple–electrode device.
With a Canadian research fellowship, Stefanis spent two years (1960-1963) at the Montreal Neurological Institute. From 1963 to 1965 he worked as research scientist at the Clinical Neuropharmacology Research Center of the National Institute of Mental Health at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. I met Costa for the first time during the early 1960s while he was in Montreal and in the years that followed we remained in friendly contact,
After his return from North America, Costas was chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Athens from 1970 to 1996 and president of the World Psychiatric Association from 1983 to 1990. During these years he also served as councilor in the Collegium Internationale Neuro-Psychopharmacologicum from 1980 to 1982. After his retirement from the chair at the university, Costas was actively involved in national politics, serving as Minister of Health of Greece from 2002 to 2004. At the time he passed away, he was director of the University Mental Health Research Center in Athens.
Scarpalezos S, Stefanis C, Nicolaides N. Preliminary observations on the effect of imipramine in depressive syndromes. Hospital Annals 1959; 6:103-15.
Stefanis C. Introduction to psychopharmacology and the first imipramine study in Greece. In: Ban TA, Healy D, Shorter E, editors. From Psychopharmacology to Neuropsychopharmacology in the 1980s and the Story of CINP As Told in Autobiography. Budapest: Animula; 2002, pp. 349-52.
Thomas A. Ban