Corneliu Guirgea is most famous for discovering piracetam and coining the term “nootropics”. Corneliu was born in 1923 in Romania and was a Professor of neurophysiology in the Faculty of Medicine in Bucharest, holding an M.D. from there, and a Ph.D. from the Pavlovian Labrotary in St. Petersburg. Corneliu Guirgea was brought to Belgium in 1963 by UCB company, who appointed him Head of Department of Neuropharmacology.

Corneliu Guirgea’s discovery of Piracetam does not start where you might think it would, it actually started while he was trying to develop a calming agent and sleep inducer. The discovery of the ability of GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) to act as a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain caused a lot of interest in GABA-related pharmacology. In 1964 a cyclic derivative of GABA was created, 2-oxo-I-pyrrolidine acetamide, which would later become known as piracetam.

Although the molecule was chemically similar to GABA, it appeared to have properties that were almost opposite of what they were hoping. Under the careful guidance of Corneliu Giurgea, what could have been written off as a failure, turned out to be a major medical discovery in it’s own right. Piracetam was the substance the spurred Giurgea to introduce the concept of “nootropic drugs” in 1972.

These “nootropic drugs” had to have the essential characteristics of Piracetam:

  • to directly activate the integrative activities of the brain, having a direct positive action on mind,
  • the activation being selective for the telencephalon and manifested on lower brain levels, so that
  • to exert a restoring effect in troubles of the higher brain activity