Erwin Neher is a German biophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 for his important contributions to cell physiology. Bert Sakmann, his research collaborator, shared the award. They received the award for their groundbreaking research on the function of ion channels in bodily cells. Their research has aided in the knowledge of a variety of ailments, including diabetes and cystic fibrosis. The approach developed by Erwin-Bert allows researchers to gain valuable information on the role of ion channel hyper- and hypofunction in disease progression.
Childhood and Adolescence
Erwin was born on March 20, 1944, in the little Bavarian village of Landsberg. He grew up in Buchloe, a town near Munich.
His father, Franz Xaver Neher, worked as a dairy industry administrator, while his mother, Elisabeth, was a teacher who preferred to stay at home after marrying.
He enrolled in the ‘Maristenkolleg’ in Mindelheim, a neighboring town, when he was ten years old. He became interested in physics and mathematics during his school years.
During his school years, he studied cybernetics and the ‘Hodgkin – Huxley theory’ of neuron excitation. As a result, by the time he started university, Erwin was certain that he wanted to be a ‘biophysicist.’
He enrolled in Munich’s ‘Technische Hochschule’ to study physics. This institute’s instruction established the groundwork for his future scholarly endeavors.
In 1966, he was awarded the ‘Fulbright Scholarship’ and enrolled in Madison’s ‘Wisconsin University.’ He began his research in a biophysics lab on low-angle X-ray scattering.
He completed his project on creating molecular beams of macromolecules for mass spectrometry under the supervision of Prof W. W. Beeman. In 1967, he finished his ‘Master of Science’ and returned to Munich to pursue biology instruction.
Erwin Neher’s Career
Under the supervision of H. D. Lux, he entered the ‘Max-Planck-Institut für Psychiatrie’ and began working on his Ph.D. project on ‘voltage-clamping snail neurons.’ This is where Erwin met Bert Sakmann for the first time.
They had a common interest and decided to work together to develop and refine the patch-clamp technique for measuring single ion channel currents. They had been employing a pipette with a diameter of one-thousandth of a millimeter and an electrode to monitor the passage of ions through a single channel in the cell membranes until that time.
Erwin traveled to the ‘University of Washington in Seattle after completing his Ph.D., and then to ‘Yale University’ in 1976 for post-doctoral research.
Bert and Erwin continued to collaborate, communicate, and publish their single-channel recordings and patch-clamp technique even though they were not in the same city.
In the same year, Erwin returned to the ‘Max Planck Institute.’ Erwin and Bert were invited to lead ‘Young Investigator Laboratories,’ where they perfected and expanded their technique while attracting postdoctoral fellows.
Erwin was named Director of the Institute in 1983, while Bert was named director of the Institute’s membrane biophysics section.
Erwin changed his focus from channels to processes, which begin inside the cell and eventually lead to biological responses such as hormone and neurotransmitter production.
He is the Director and Head of the Department of Membrane Biophysics at Göttingen’s ‘Max Planck Institute’ for Biophysical Chemistry. He is also a co-chair of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Göttingen and a professor at the University of Göttingen.
His Major Projects
Human life is built on the foundation of cells. A membrane surrounds each living cell, separating the world inside from the world outside. There are channels in this membrane that allow the cell to connect with its surroundings. These channels are made up of single molecules or complexes of molecules that allow ions to pass through. Ion channel regulation affects the cell’s life and functioning in both normal and pathological situations.
Erwin and Bert Sakmann devised a mechanism for registering the exceedingly small electrical currents (as low as a picoampere – 10-12A) that flow through a single ion channel. The approach is one-of-a-kind in that it captures how a single channel molecule changes shape and so controls the flow of current in a fraction of a second.
They also demonstrated how the channel controls whether positively or negatively charged ions pass through it. It established the way ion channels work. They demonstrated what happens when an ion channel with a diameter equal to that of a single sodium or chloride ion opens or closes.
Several ion channels are controlled by a receptor that is located on one side of the channel molecule and changes shape when activated. Erwin-Bert determined which sections of the molecule make up the sensor and the channel’s interior wall.
Erwin-innovative Bert’s analytical technique has transformed modern biology and helped to comprehend the molecular mechanisms underlying a variety of disorders, including diabetes and cystic fibrosis.
Achievements & Awards
Since 1986, Erwin has been an Honorary Professor at the University of Gottingen. In 1988, he was awarded the Dr.h.c Limburgs Universitair Centrum in Belgium.
In 1994, he was chosen as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.
In the year 2000, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pavia.
Erwin and Bert have received numerous awards for their foundational research, including the Nobel Prize in 1991.
In 1977, he received the Nernst-Haber-Bodenstein Award from the German Society for Physical Chemistry.
The Feldberg Award was given to them in 1979 by the Feldberg Foundation in London, which was formed to foster collaboration between English and German scientists.
In 1983, Columbia University gave him the Spencer Award, and in 1984, the University of Wurzburg gave him the Adolf Fick-Preis Award.
In 1986, the Fidia Research Foundation presented the Fidia Research Award. In the same year, he earned the Columbia University Louisa Gross-Horwitz Award, the University of Giessen Schunck-Preis Award, and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Leibniz Award.
He was given the Gerard Prize by the American Neuroscience Association in 1991.
Personal History and Legacy
While working at Yale University, Erwin met Eva-Maria, a fellow scientist. Both of them eventually married in 1978. Richard, Benjamin, Carola, Sigmund, and Margret are the couple’s five children.
Estimated Net Worth
Erwin Neher is one of the wealthiest biophysicists and one of the most well-known biophysicists. Erwin Neher’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.