Oleh Hornykiewicz was born on November 17th 1926 in Sychiw near Lviv/Lemberg in Eastern Galicia today belonging to the western part of Ukraine. With the outbreak of the second World War, 1939, the family moved to Vienna and Oleh, then at the age of 13, started to attend the Sperlgymnasium in Vienna and in 1945 enrolled as a medical student at the University of Vienna. Upon finishing his University studies in 1951, he became "voluntary research assistant" (without salary) at the Pharmacological Institute of the University of Vienna that, at that time, was under the directorship of Franz von Brücke.
In 1956, he applied for a British Council Scholarship that enabled him to join the University Department of Pharmacology at Oxford. In Oxford Oleh Hornykiewicz worked in the laboratory of Herman Blaschko on biogenic amines, especially noradrenaline and adrenaline. Hornykiewicz was able to show in the guinea pig a decrease in the blood pressure by dopamine, in those days still considered as a mere precursor of noradrenaline and adrenaline.
In 1958, Oleh Hornykiewicz returned to Vienna and took up a position as a research assistant at the Department of Pharmacology. The idea of a specific function of dopamine prompted Hornykiewicz to study dopamine in the brain of patients dying from Parkinson´s disease. And indeed, Oleh Hornykiewicz, together with his assistant Herbert Ehringer, observed a marked loss of dopamine in the caudate/putamen of Parkinson patients. Since then he and others consolidated the finding and it represents outstanding basic knowledge in Brain Pathology.
Only one year later, together with the neurologist Walther Birkmayer, Hornykiewicz tried to substitute the loss in striatal dopamine by injection of its precursor L-DOPA penetrating, other than dopamine itself, the blood brain barrier. From animal experiments, it had already been known that L-DOPA was capable to increase brain dopamine levels. Birkmayer and Hornykiewicz reported in 1961 the first 20 patients observing a dramatic improvement of Parkinsonian symptoms with comparably few side effects. Oleh Hornikiewicz contributed fundamentally to the recognition of dopamine as an independent neurotransmitter with specific functions in the central nervous system.
In 1964 Hornykiewicz habilitated as Dozent for Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University in Vienna.
In 1967 he was offered a position at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Canada. He joined the Departments of Pharmacology and Psychiatry and the Clarke Institute in Toronto, first as visiting Professor and, a few months later, as full Professor in Pharmacology of the University and as Head of the Department of Psychopharmacology of the Clarke Institute, and became full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto in 1973. Hornykiewicz and his collaborators continued and expanded the concept of doing Neurochemistry in post mortem brains from patients with clinically well-defined diseases demonstrating the unique research value of frozen human postmortem brain material, which triggered off the establishment of human brain tissue banks all over the world.
In 1976, Oleh Hornykiewicz was offered the position of Professor and chairman in the Institute of Biochemical Pharmacology in Vienna, newly established for him. But the Clarke Institute did not let Oleh Hornykiewicz go entirely. They appointed him in 1977 as a visiting Professor of the University Toronto and as Head of the Human Brain Laboratory, established by him in 1978 at the Clarke Institute. So, Oleh Hornykiewicz commuted for more than 10 year between Vienna and Toronto.
In the end 80´s the idea of a Vienna Brain Research Institute emerged, unifying the existing Institutes for Neurology (Neuropathology), Neurophysiology, Neuropharmacology and Biochemical Pharmacology into a multidisciplinary Brain Research Center. Hornykiewicz´s personal efforts and his international standing became instrumental in this project and in 1999 the Brain Research Institute opened its doors.
Prof. Hornykiewicz retired at the University of Toronto in 1992 and at the University of Vienna 1995 as Professor Emeritus. In Vienna he served as acting Chairman of the Institute for Biochemical Pharmacology until 1999 and very much supported a new orientation of the research focus after my return from a two years fellowship at Duke University in North Carolina to a molecular approach to neurotransmitter transporters with all the necessary techniques requiring new equipment. With the usual remarkable intellectual alertness and flexibility he contributed to research on psychostimulants and their molecular mechanism, which was the main topic of research in the last years of the Institute of Biochemical Pharmacology. Numerous were the honors and awards that Hornykiewicz received over the years. Apart the highest honors of the City of Vienna and Republic of Austria, he won in 1979 the Wolf prize together with Arvid Carlsson for opening a new approach in the control of Parkinson´s disease by L-Dopa. This prize, awarded by Israels´ Wolf Foundation, ranks among the most prestigious awards of science apart the Nobel Prize and, in fact, as many other Wolf prizewinner, Arvid Carlsson won the Nobel Prize in 2000 sharing it with Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system. More than 230 scientist felt that Oleh Hornykiewicz should have been included in the Award in an open letter to the committee on the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2001.
In 1999 the Institute of Biochemical Pharmacology was integrated into the Brain Research Institute of the University of Vienna. Up to three years ago, Oleh Hornykiewicz practically spent all days at his office at the Brain Research Institute, now Center for Brain Research of the Medical University of Vienna. He vividly and highly scholarly discussed his ideas on rather different topics in neuroscience. His favorite topic however still remained basal ganglia and Parkinson´s disease. His also unchanged remarkable skills in meticulous dissection by hand of sliced frozen brains led to the discovery of profound losses in noradrenaline in thalamic nuclei of Parkinson´s patients. It potentially explains various impairments observed in these patients. Most remarkable was Prof. Hornykiewicz´s daily presence in the lab and his unbroken and contagious enthusiasm for his field of research. Discussions with him were always fascinating, challenging and very often extended to topics far beyond neuroscience. Furthermore, he authored more than 50 scientific papers since his retirement.