THE FIRMAMENT OF NEUROSCIENCE LOSES A SHINING STAR (in memoriam Oleh Hornykiewicz)
Oleh Hornykiewicz, one of the most accomplished neuropharmacologists of the 20th century passed away on May 26, 2020 at the age of 93. In 1939, Oleh’s father, a Ukrainian Catholic priest, fled with his young family from Soviet-occupied Ukraine and settled in Vienna. During his medical studies, Oleh became fascinated by pharmacology and in 1956 was awarded a fellowship to Oxford University (U.K.) where he worked with Dr. Hermann Blaschko, a pioneer in the study of enzymes of catecholamine synthesis and metabolism. At that time, it was still thought that dopamine was merely an intermediate in the synthesis of norepinephrine.
Dr. Hornykiewicz demonstrated that even after its breakdown had been blocked, administration of dopamine or its precursor L-DOPA could elevate blood pressure in animal models. Dopamine was bioactive per se. Upon his return to Vienna in 1958, the young scientist began studying dopamine in the brain. Familiar with Parkinson’s Disease and intrigued by Arvid Carlsson’s finding that L-DOPA could counteract the akinesia of the reserpenized rat, Dr. Hornyckiewicz began to suspect that a dopamine deficiency mediated the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. He developed new techniques, applied these to the study of postmortem brains, and demonstrated that Parkinson’s disease was associated with a dopamine deficiency in the basal ganglia. Shortly afterwards, he and Walter Birkmeyer observed how the intravenous administration of L-DOPA could awaken mute and akinetic patients with Parkinson’s disease. For the first time, a discreet chemical was both implicated in a complex brain disorder and could be used as a treatment. This stands as one of the seminal discoveries in neuropharmacology. To this day, L-DOPA remains a mainstay in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Over the following half-century Dr. Hornykiewicz continued his own work, generously mentored others and established brain banks in Vienna as well as in Toronto, Canada where he worked for many years. He received numerous awards, and was nominated for but not awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, in a decision that has remained controversial. He will remain forever, a brilliant star in the history of neuropharmacology.
Roberts Sam. (June 15, 2020). Oleh Hornykiewicz, 93, a Pharmacologist Who Discovered a Treatment for Parkinson’s. Section A, Page 20. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/science/oleh-hornykiewicz-who-discovered-parkinsons-treatment-dies-at-93.html
Heidt Amanda. (June 18, 2020). Oleh Hornykiewicz, Who Pioneered Treatment for Parkinson’s, Dies. The New York Times. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/oleh-hornykiewicz-who-pioneered-treatment-for-parkinsons-dies-67645
Sitte Harald, Willeit Matthäus. 2017 Jan. Introduction to the Special Issue on dopamine celebrating the 90th birthday of Oleh Hornykiewicz. Pub Med. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/ejn.13502
Raiput A.H. (April 01, 2001). An open letter to the Committee on The Nobel Prize in Medicine. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders. Vol.7, Issue 2. P149-155. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1353-8020(00)00082-1
Lees Andrew J., Tolosa Eduardo., Olanow C Warren. (2015 Jan). Four pioneers of L-dopa treatment: Arvid Carlsson, Oleh Hornykiewicz, George Cotzias, and Melvin Yahr. Pub Med. 30(1):19-36. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/mds.26120
Pifl Christian, Sperk Günther. (2006 Oct.) Current topics in brain dopamine research: a tribute to Professor Oleh Hornykiewicz. Pub Med. 118(19-20):563-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00508-006-0719-6
Sommer Barbara W. (February 9, 2007). Interview with Oleh Hornykiewicz. The Movement Disorder Society Oral History Project. Doi: http://www.movementdisorders.org/MDS-Files1/PDFs/hornykiewicz.pdf
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