On the tracks of creutzfeld jakob disease history people

On the trail of Creutzfeld-Jakob diseaseWith the outbreak of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the 1990s, scientists Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt and Alfons Maria Jakob became household names to the public. The brain researcher Creutzfeldt was born in Hamburg.

Wroclaw 1913: The neurologist Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt observes mysterious symptoms in a patient at the Wroclaw University Neurological Clinic. She suffers from quivering facial muscles, uncontrolled twitching of the arms, distorted speech and epileptic seizures. After a short illness, the young woman dies. Based on his observations, Creutzfeldt suspects a brain disease. After the patient's death, he examines her brain and finds "a peculiar, focal disease of the central nervous system" firmly. The brain has dissolved like a sponge. The researcher suspects that he has discovered a new disease. When Creutzfeldt wants to write down and publish his observations, however, World War I begins. The physician is drafted into military service.

Alfons Maria Jakob observes the same symptoms

It is not until seven years later that he publishes his findings. In this, he precedes the neurologist Alfons Maria Jakob by a few months, who had observed the same symptoms in several patients. All die of the mysterious disease. It is named Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after its two discoverers in 1922. The cause of the disease remains a mystery to both doctors throughout their lives. Today, researchers know that proteins – so-called prions – play a central role in the disease. They block nerve cells, which eventually die off. The disease leads to death in a short time. Believed to be inherited or triggered due to random mutations in the brain.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) emerges in the 1990s

In the 1990s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease takes on a new meaning: Suddenly, the cattle disease BSE emerges. The symptoms show clear parallels to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In connection with BSE, the experts now speak of a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which, however, is triggered by the consumption of contaminated beef. Strikingly, the new variant appears in younger people and the course of the disease is longer. Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt is suddenly known to a broad public.

Creutzfeldt focuses on brain research

On the trail of creutzfeld jakob disease history people

The important brain researcher comes from a medical family from Hamburg-Harburg. On 2. Born June 1885, he graduates from high school in 1903 and, like his father, decides to study medicine. After stations in Jena and Rostock, Creutzfeldt passes his exams in Kiel in 1908. Now he is drawn to faraway places. At the Bernhard Nocht Institute, he trains as a ship's doctor and spends two years traveling in Southeast Asia and the South Seas.

In 1912 Creutzfeldt decides to devote himself to brain research. In his work he investigates psychiatric diseases. Focuses on changes in the anatomy of the brain. In the following years, he works at the St.-Georg Hospital in Hamburg, at the Neurological Institute in Frankfurt am Main and at the psychiatric-neurological clinic in Breslau. After the First World War, which he experiences as a naval medical officer, he works in Munich as an assistant at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry. But after just one year, Creutzfeldt is drawn back to the north again. In Kiel, he takes on an assistant position at the university neurological clinic, where he also habilitates. Here he describes for the first time his observations from his time in Breslau.

In 1924, the researcher goes to the Charite in Berlin. There he works under the well-known psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer as assistant and senior physician at the Psychiatric and Neurological University Hospital. In 1938 Creutzfeldt returns to the Kiel Fjord with his wife Clare and his five children; he takes over the psychiatric-neurological chair at the university and the management of the Kiel Nervenklinik.

Creutzfeldt's ambivalent role in the Third Reich

His role in the Second World War is ambivalent: He is an aspirant of the National Socialist German Medical Association and a passive member of the SS. As a medical assessor at the Higher Court for Hereditary Health in Berlin, he helps decide on forced sterilizations. Hundreds of patients are transferred from the Kiel University Hospital to state hospitals as part of the Nazi euthanasia program; at least 65 are murdered. In addition, in at least one case, a German marine is executed on the basis of Creutzfeldt's expert opinion. He is not held accountable for this after the end of the war.

On the other hand, people are said to have been saved from execution on the basis of his expert opinions. In 1943, his wife was even sentenced to four months in prison by a special court for making anti-Nazi statements in public.

Creutzfeldt's ambivalent role during the Nazi era leads to a heated discussion in Kiel in 2004. The plan to name a street intersection after Creutzfeldt is unanimously rejected by the city representatives across party lines.

First postwar rector in Kiel

On the trail of creutzfeld jakob disease history people

After the Second World War, Creutzfeldt fights for the reconstruction of Kiel University. As the first postwar rector, he works to reunite the 18 provisional university campuses scattered throughout Schleswig-Holstein after the end of the war in Kiel. In 1945/46, he also succeeds in getting four former Wehrmacht training ships made available as hostels for the students.

But then there are conflicts with the British occupiers: they accuse Creutzfeldt of employing too many lecturers at the university who are incriminated as war criminals. The military government then demands a limit on the new enrollment of former Wehrmacht officers. Creutzfeldt ignores this demand. As a result, he is dismissed as rector after only six months.

Creutzfeldt then concentrates on the reconstruction of the Kiel Mental Hospital. In 1952, he described his work in psychiatry in an interview with the "Kieler Nachrichten" As follows: "A dangerous profession, because it can easily lead to arrogance and, on the other hand, to skepticism. Wisdom lies in the middle, in humbling oneself."

In 1953, he was awarded emeritus status. He spends his retirement in Munich and works there for some more years as a scientific guest at the German Research Institute for Psychiatry.

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