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MedUni Vienna awards honorary doctorate to Eric Kandel

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Image: MedUni Vienna/Hörmandinger
from left: Heinz Faßmann (Science Minister), Eva Dichand (University Council), Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Denise and Eric Kandel, MedUni-Rector Markus Müller

(Vienna 24 April 2018) Today (Tuesday), Markus Müller, Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, presented Eric Kandel with an honorary doctorate from MedUni Vienna. Kandel, born in November 1929, the second son of a Viennese toy dealer, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in the year 2000. He was honoured for his work in the field of memory. He was personally congratulated by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Science Minister Heinz Faßmann.

Following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Kandel and his family were forced to emigrate to the USA in 1939. He became an American citizen in 1945. His interest in researching the physiological processes in the brain initially developed from his interest in psychology and the theories of Sigmund Freud. Kandel started to study medicine at New York University in 1952 with the original intention of becoming a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst but then decided to go into basic research and to dedicate himself to the experimental study of biological and molecular processes in the brain.

In 2000, Kandel won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery that changes in the strength of connections between neurons form the basis for learning processes in the brain. Moreover, his experiments with sea snails also showed that short-term memory requires the alteration of existing proteins, while long-term memory is dependent upon a change in gene expression and the synthesis of new proteins. Kandel was therefore able to prove how mental processes produce biological changes and that learning and memory bring about molecular and anatomical changes in the brain.

"Eric Kandel is one of the very few living Nobel prize-winners with roots in Austria. For this alone he is a great example to us all. We have a responsibility towards those people who were expelled and never brought back. As an admonishment of the Republic, Eric Kandel makes us look back on the past and, as a successful scientist and example, forwards towards the future," said Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Image: MedUni Vienna/Hörmandinger

"As an outstanding researcher, humanist and Nobel prize-winner from the year 2000, Professor Kandel has helped to shape modern medicine," said MedUni Vienna Rector Markus Müller. "We are very honoured that, despite the traumatic experiences of his childhood in Vienna in the 1930s, which finally led to his family fleeing and emigrating to the USA, he has become our teacher and friend. We are delighted that he is accepting this honorary doctorate from our university as a mark of the high esteem in which we hold him."

"We are all ultimately shaped by our memories. The results of Eric Kandel's decades of research and his insights into the biological foundations of learning and memory, right down to the level of individual molecules, are a gift to humanity," said laudatory speaker Daniela D. Pollak. She worked as a post-doc in Eric Kandel's laboratory for three years and was involved in researching the molecular bases of learned safety in the mouse model.