An internationally renowned neurophysiologist and enthusiastic researcher, Gerald Obermair has been the head of the Physiology Division at the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Microbiology as University Professor of the Karl Landsteiner Private University of Health Sciences (KL) since March 2019. The latest project he has taken to his heart is an interdisciplinary doctoral programme called “Mental Health and Neuroscience” which is scheduled to start in 2023.
Obermair is particularly interested in voltage-gated calcium channels, a particular class of biomolecules. “These channels are found in the cell membrane and mediate calcium ion entry into the neuronal cells as soon as the electric charge in their environment changes,” the expert explains. “The calcium channels are therefore key players in transmitting signals between neurons and hence in our brain’s function as the control centre of our organism.”
These channels are also believed to play an important role in the growth of our central nervous system and in learning. Obermair theorises that the density and distribution of calcium channels in the brain may be linked to a number of mental illnesses. “The results of many studies, including our own, suggest a connection with autism, epilepsy, depression and anxiety disorders,” Obermair explains. “This is why they are interesting for clinical treatments.”
Originally, Obermair wanted to become an oceanographer like the Austrian diving pioneer Hans Hass, his former role model, and therefore studied biology. During his studies, he spent a year in Ohio (U.S.), where he specialised in neurobiology and biochemistry. Back in Austria, he took up a postgraduate post at Innsbruck and soon established his own workgroup and, later, a doctoral programme in neurophysiology at the same university. This experience will now feed into the new PhD programme “Mental Health and Neuroscience” to be established in Krems.
Since joining the KL, Obermair has commuted by train between Innsbruck and Krems. Apart from his research group in Innsbruck, which he continues to supervise part-time, his wife and their two daughters still live there. “Having two workplaces was a good excuse to continue to travel even during the covid pandemic,” Obermair reveals with a smile.
Link: Physiology Division at the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Microbiology
Text: Klaus Wassermann