Levan, Albert (1905-1997), Professor of Genetics
He should have received the Nobel Prize. This is a statement commonly heard whenever the research work of Albert Levan is being discussed. He chose Lund as his place of work because here was the only department in the country specialising in heredity research
Albert Levan worked as a plant geneticist at Svalöv from 1933 to 1947. He then joined the Department of Genetics in Lund where in 1961 he received a professorship in cytology.
In 1953 he started the Cancer Chromosome Laboratory at Geneticum.
Very early in his career, Levan had established a passion for chromosome research in bulbs – as they gave a very clear picture. An application within this area is the so-called Allium test developed by Levan. This is an effective method for quickly demonstrating how the genetic predispositions in bulb roots are affected by chemicals. The test has been used worldwide – a local example shows how the vegetation in Teckomatorp became affected following the dumping of poisons in the area.
He then adapted the technology of studying chromosomes in plant cells to the next major area of research – the chromosomes in mammalian cells. Chromosomal changes in tumour cells were of particular interest to him. He suspected early on that such changes are important when a normal cell is transformed to a cancer cell. The Cancer Chromosome Laboratory at Geneticum in Lund became internationally known and chromosome researchers from all over the world flocked there to work. In 1956, Albert Levan together with the Chinese guest researcher Joe Hin Tjio, caused a scientific sensation when they were able to count and determine that the normal number in humans was 46 and not 48 that previously had been accepted.
– “It wasn’t so remarkable. Once the techniques had been combined, counting the chromosomes became quite easy. However, and more importantly, it now means that we have a safe methodology for acquiring analysable images of human and mammalian chromosomes and we are now able to verify that chromosomes are involved in the cancer process, ” said Albert Levan when he was interviewed prior to his 85th birthday.
Text: Solveig Ståhl