June 19, 2020

Oleh Hornykiewicz, world-renowned neurologist


TORONTO – Prof. Oleh Hornykiewicz, internationally renowned brain researcher and one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, passed away May 26 in Vienna, Austria. He was 93. 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 Prof. Hornykiewicz received numerous prestigious international honors, awards and distinctions.

In 2000 Prof. Hornykiewicz 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.

He 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 Rev. Myron Hornykiewicz, was the parish priest at St. Barbara Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1923-1959. Mr. Hornykiewicz studied medicine in Vienna and received his M.D. from the University of Vienna in 1951.

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

Widely acknowledged as the leading authority on neurotransmitter function in diseased and normal brains, Prof. 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.


Daria Darewych, Ph.D., is president of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in Canada.