Oleh Hornykiewicz, world-class brain researcher, passed away

Daria Darewych, Ph.D.

Prof. Oleh Hornykiewicz, internationally renowned brain researcher and one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, passed away on 26 May 2020 in Vienna, Austria. His greatest achievement and contribution to humanity came early in his career, in 1960, when he discovered the cause of Parkinson’s disease. A year later, he initiated the first clinical trials of medication to treat this disorder. His development of L-dopa for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease revolutionized treatment and remains the cornerstone of therapy today. Thousands of patients worldwide have benefitted from his research and discoveries. For his work Oleh Hornykiewicz received numerous prestigious international honours, awards and distinctions. In 2000 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. When the award was given to others, even though it was he who had made the crucial link between the discovery of the neurotransmitter dopamine in Parkinson’s disease and its treatment, 230 scientists wrote an open letter to the Nobel Prize Committee expressing their regret that he had been overlooked.

Oleh Hornykiewicz was born in Sykhiv (now part of Lviv) in 1926 into the priestly family of reverend Teofil and Anna Hornykiewycz. His family fled Western Ukraine in 1940 when the Soviet Army invaded. They settled in Vienna where his uncle, the Very Reverend Myron Hornykiewicz, was parish priest at St. Barbara Ukrainian Catholic Church from 1923-1959. Oleh studied medicine in Vienna and received his M.D. from the University of Vienna in 1951.

Dr. Oleh Hornykiewicz began his academic and research career in the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Vienna in 1951. He held a British Council Research Scholarship at the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Oxford from 1956 to 1958. In 1967 he was appointed head of the Department of Psychopharmacology at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry and in 1973 full professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

In 1976 Prof. Hornykiewicz returned to Vienna as Professor and Head of the newly founded Institute of Biochemical Pharmacology of the University of Vienna. He continued to maintain his concurrent position with the University of Toronto. In 1978 he established the “Human Brain Laboratory”, a new research section at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto, which he directed until his retirement in 1992.

At the University of Vienna, he was instrumental in founding the Centre of Brain Research at the Medical Faculty, now Medical University of Vienna. Officially he retired as professor emeritus in 1995, but continued to serve as interim head until 1999.

Widely acknowleged as the leading authority on neurotransmitter function in diseased and normal brains, Prof. Oleh Hornykiewicz continued to pursue his research into the human brain until recently. With his death, the world has lost an internationally renowned neuroscientist and the Ukrainian community has lost a famous son. He is survived by his daughter, Maria Hentosz in Ottawa, and three sons, Nicholas, Stephen, and Joseph in Austria.