Birthday: March 20, 1944
Age: 77 Years, 77 Year Old Males
Sun Sign: Pisces
Born in: Landsberg am Lech, Bavaria, Germany
Famous as: Biophysicist
father: Franz Xaver Neher
children: Benjamin, Carola, Margret, Richard, Sigmund
education: Technical University of Munich University of Wisconsin-Madison
awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1991)
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (1987)
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1986)
Who is Erwin Neher?
Erwin Neher is a German biophysicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1990 for Physiology or Medicine for his significant work in cell physiology. He shared this prize with his research partner Bert Sakmann. They were awarded for their ground breaking discovery on the function of ion channels in the body cell. Their work has contributed in understanding of many diseases, such as diabetes and cystic fibrosis. The technique developed by Erwin-Bert makes it possible to secure important insights into the role that hyper- and hypo-function of ion channels play in the development of diseases.
Childhood & Early Life
Erwin was born on 20th March 1944 in a small town Landsberg in Bavaria. He grew up in another town Buchloe, near Munich.
His father, Franz Xaver Neher, was an administrator in a dairy company whereas his mother Elisabeth was a teacher but chose to be a homemaker after marriage.
At the age of 10, he entered 'Maristenkolleg' at a nearby town Mindelheim. During the school he got interested in physics and mathematics.
He learned about cybernetics and studied the ‘Hodgkin – Huxley theory’ of nerve excitation while he was in school. Hence, by the time he entered the university, Erwin was very clear that he would become a ‘biophysicist’.
He entered 'Technische Hochschule' in Munich to study physics. His education in this institute laid the foundation of his future research work.
He won the ‘Fulbright Scholarship’ in 1966 and enrolled at the ‘Wisconsin University’ at Madison. He started his work in biophysics laboratory on low angle X-ray scattering.
Under the guidance of Prof W. W. Beeman, he completed his project on producing molecular beams of macromolecules for mass spectrometry. He completed his 'Master of Science' and returned to Munich in 1967 to pursue education in biology.
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He joined ‘Max-Planck-Institut für Psychiatrie’ and started working on his PhD project on ‘voltage-clamping snail neurons’ under the guidance of H. D. Lux. This is where Erwin first met Bert Sakmann.
Both of them shared the same interest and decided to collaborate to measure single ion channel currents, which involved developing and refining the patch-clamp technique. Till that time they were using a pipette one-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter, fitted with an electrode to detect the flow of ions through a single channel in the cell membranes.
After his PhD, Erwin moved to the ‘University of Washington’ in Seattle and, later to ‘Yale University’ for his post doctoral research work in 1976.
Though Bert and Erwin were not in the same city, they continued to work together, communicate and publish their single channel records and the patch-clamp technique.
Erwin returned to the ‘Max Planck Institute’ in the same year. There, Erwin and Bert were invited to run ‘Young Investigator Laboratories’, attracting postdoctoral fellows and perfecting and expanding their technique.
In 1983, Erwin was selected as the Director of the institute and Bert headed the Institute’s membrane biophysics department.
Erwin shifted his interest area from channels to processes the channels initiate inside the cell eventually leading to a cellular response like secretion to hormones and neurotransmitters.
He is the Director at the ‘Max Planck Institute’ for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and ‘Head of the Department of Membrane Biophysics’. He is also a Professor at the ‘University of Göttingen’ and a co-chair of the ‘Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Göttingen’.
Cells are foundation blocks of human life. Each living cell is surrounded by a membrane which separates the world within the cell from its exterior. In this membrane there are channels, through which the cell communicates with its surroundings. These channels consist of single molecules or complexes of molecules and have the ability to allow passage of ions. The regulation of ion channels influences the life of the cell and its functions under normal and pathological conditions.
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Erwin along with Bert Sakmann developed a technique that allows the registration of the incredibly small electrical currents (amounting to a picoampere - 10-12A) that pass through a single ion channel. The technique is unique which records how a single channel molecule alters its shape and in that way controls the flow of current within a time frame of a few millionths of a second. They also showed how the channel regulates the passage of positively or negatively charged ions. It established how the ion channels function. They demonstrated what happens during the opening or closure of an ion channel with a diameter corresponding to that of a single sodium or chloride ion. Several ion channels are regulated by a receptor localized to one part of the channel molecule which upon activation alters its shape. Erwin-Bert established which parts of the molecule that constitutes the ‘sensor’ and the interior wall of the channel.
This new analytical tool developed by Erwin-Bert has revolutionized modern biology and has contributed to the understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying several diseases, including diabetes and cystic fibrosis.
Awards & Achievements
Erwin is Honorary Professor in University of Gottingen since 1986. He was honored with Dr.h.c Limburgs Universitair Centrum, Belgium in 1988.
He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1994.
He was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Pavia in 2000.
Apart from the Nobel Prize in 1991, Erwin and Bert have won many other accolades for their fundamental research.
German Society for Physical Chemistry awarded him Nernst-Haber-Bodenstein Award in 1977.
Feldberg Foundation, London, which was established to increase collaboration between English and German scientists, awarded them the Feldberg Award, in 1979.
Columbia University awarded the Spencer Award in 1983, whereas University of Wurzburg honored him with Adolf Fick-Preis award in 1984.
Fidia Research Foundation awarded the Fidia Research Award in 1986. In the same year, he received Louisa Gross-Horwitz award from Columbia University, Schunck-Preis award from University of Giessen and Leibniz Award from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
In 1991, American Neuroscience Association awarded him the Gerard Prize.
Personal Life & Legacy
Erwin met Eva-Maria, his fellow scientist while working at Yale University. Eventually both of them got married in 1978. The couple has five children – Richard, Benjamin, Carola, Sigmund and Margret.