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April 13 2016

Countdown to ECE 2016 in Germany - a country steeped in rich endocrinology history

We’re less than two months away from kick-starting the 18th European Congress of Endocrinology in the vibrant city of Munich, famous for its beer halls, football team and Alpine scenery.

With its rich economic and industrial history, it is no surprise that Germany has continuously been the home of some of the world’s most influential artists, philosophers, sportsmen and musicians. But it is Germany’s scientific legacy that makes it such an appropriate host for ECE 2016 – one of the world’s leading medical conferences. Notable scientists who lived in Munich at one point in their lives include Max Planck, Feodor Lynen and Hans Krebs.

From the extraction of morphine to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, German doctors have shaped history. It was here in 1897 that Eichengrün first synthetized acetylsalicyclic acid, commonly known as aspirin; today 40,000 tonnes of the medication are consumed every year. German entrepreneurial spirit helped Paul Carl Beiersdorf develop and patent a modern version of the adhesive bandage/medical plaster and brave yet unorthodox self-experimentation methods led to Werner Forsmann winning a Nobel Prize in medicine for developing a safe procedure for cardiac catheterization.

Germany’s legacy to endocrinology is equally as impressive. In the mid nineteenth century, Arnold Berthold performed his ground-breaking experiments with castrated chickens, noting differences in male behaviour due to the hormone testosterone. A few years earlier Karl Adolph von Basedow has described symptoms which we today know as Graves Disease, though the condition was named after Irishman Robert James Graves.

Fast forwarding to 1889, Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski were the first to discover the function of the pancreas. The pair noticed that, despite being house trained, dogs with a removed pancreas kept urinating frequently on the floor. Subsequent urine tests established the crucial link between the pancreas and diabetes, a condition first described as far back as in Ancient Egyptian manuscripts. Today diabetes is one of the world’s biggest health challenges – and endocrinologists are key in helping countries tackle what the World Health Organisation recently described as an “unrelenting march”.

In 1921, pharmacologist and Frankfurter Otto Loewi laid down the foundations for neuroendocrinology by discovering that the heart’s vagus nerve released vagusstoff, as Loewi called it. The substances were later found to be acetylcholine and noradrenaline and fundamentally changed our perception of the interaction between the nervous and endocrine system.

Munich itself has been home to some of medicine’s greatest, most notably the chemist Emil Fischer, whose work on sugars and proteins revolutionised biochemistry. Berta and Ernst Scharrer worked under the discoverer of the bee waggle-dance Karl von Frisch at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. It was here that the Scharrers noticed unusual structures in certain hypothalamic neurons and in 1928 proposed that these cells may have something to do with the control of pituitary hormones – furthering the field of neuroendocrinology.

At ECE 2016, a new generation of expert doctors and endocrinologists will descend on the banks of the river Isar to continue the work that many of these great scientists kick-started. You will take part in Europe’s leading endocrine research conference, where we will have some of the world’s greatest minds discussing some of the biggest and most interesting medical challenges in the world..

We hope to see you there!

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