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Oleh Hornykiewicz

Oleh Hornykiewicz

Remembering Oleh Hornykiewicz (1926-2020)

Oleh Hornykiewicz was one of the first researchers who saw a relation between low dopamine levels and Parkinson's, a finding that led to the formation of L-dopa, an amino acid found in fava beans in the 1970s.

Levodopa, as it was later dubbed, can be converted into dopamine by enzymes in the brain. This treatment strategy is relevant to this very day.

Work with L-Dopa

Birkmayer and Hornykiewicz

Birkmayer (R) and Hornykiewicz (L)

It was in 1960 that Professor Hornykiewicz first discovered that the brains of patients who had died of Parkinson's had very low levels of dopamine.

At the time, Hornykiewicz was ridiculed by most of his colleagues, who considered studying the brain after death to be a waste of time.

Working with another neurologist, Walther Birkmayer, Professor Hornykiewicz oversaw the injecting of L-dopa in people with Parkinson's.

The results were stunning at the time - the researchers noted bedridden patients beginning to move about with marked improvements in their speech as well as a reduction in tremors experienced.

Quite appropriately, when the researchers published their findings in 1961, they titled the paper, "The L-Dopa Miracle". The astonishing black-and-white video footage captured by Professor Hornykiewicz, of patients stirring and moving about after years, inspired the book and subsequent 1990 Hollywood movie, Awakenings.


Awakenings (1990), starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams


At the turn of the new millennium, the Nobel prize in Medicine was awarded to the discoverers of dopamine and those who developed treatments that helped combat neurodegenerative diseases.

When Professor Hornykiewicz was excluded from the list of awardees, 200 of his peers wrote to the Nobel committee to protest the decision.

Hornykiewicz's work reminds us that before such scientific advances, medical professionals were nearly helpless to treat people with Parkinson's.

Oleh passed away in his home in Vienna at the age of 93 on May 26.

We remember and thank him for his incredible research efforts that have changed millions of lives.

How can Parkinson’s New Zealand help?

Picture of Hand Holding

We offer professional support to people living with Parkinson’s

Our team of Parkinson’s Community Educators develop high-quality medical plans, while also providing in-depth information.

They connect people with Parkinson’s to speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists.

Parkinson’s NZ also runs networking support groups and exercise classes, while also offering physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, as well as art/music therapy sessions to members.

"Parkinson's NZ is a non-profit helping New Zealanders with Parkinson's. We heavily depend on the generosity and empathy of Kiwis, so kindly make a donation!"