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A Pioneer in Neuroendocrinology
06 September 2018 (online)
The year 2018 includes the 90th anniversary of the founding of the oldest German endocrinological journal, “Endokrinologie” (today “Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes” [ECED]). At this occasion of reflecting on the journal’s history, it is also appropriate to add an obituary for one of its editors, Professor Dr. med. Dr. med. h.c. Günter Dörner, who passed away in Berlin on March 30, 2018, at the age of 89 years.[*]
The journal was founded in 1928 by Leo Asher from Bern, Switzerland, and Artur Biedl from Prague, Czechoslovakia. In 1974, after nearly 18 years, Professor Emil Tonutti (then Giessen;1966-1974 Ulm) stepped down from the editorship for reasons of age. In the 1970s, the cold war was still continuing and Germany divided. The journal, Endokrinologie, was in a peculiar situation. It was a German-language journal, with its Editor, Prof. Tonutti, residing in West Germany (Ulm) and its publishing house, Ambrosius Barth, located in East Germany (Leipzig). This publishing house was in private hands, a rare circumstance in a socialist country such as the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Now that the position of editor needed to be filled, the GDR authorities instructed the publishing house that the appointment of an editor from West German was inappropriate. Therefore, the chief manager of the publishing house, Klaus Wiecke, asked Professor Dörner from the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology at the Charité of the Humboldt University in East Berlin to help in this difficult situation. Dörner accepted the position as editor-in-chief. In agreement with the publishing house, he was supported by 3 editorial secretaries (Franziska Götz, Renate Tönjes, and Georg Hinz). Endokrinologie was declared the official journal of the Society for Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases of the GDR, whose president Dörner had been from 1968 to 1974. An editorial board of 8 members and a scientific advisory board with colleagues from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, and the USA were constituted.
In 1978, new guidelines for Authors (in German and English) were printed in every issue. In consideration of the international significance of the journal, Dörner and the editorial board decided, in agreement with the president of the Endocrinological Society, to publish in English only (with the exception of book reviews) and to change the journal title to “Experimental & Clinical Endocrinology – Weiterführung von (continuation of) Endokrinologie.”
The editorial office now included the editorial board and 8 to 11 associate editors. Shortly before the reunification of Germany, the publishing house was deprivatized and changed to a “Volkseigener Betrieb” (VEB; Publicly Owned Operation) but retained its name.
After the reunification, the Barth publishing house found a new home in the Georg Thieme publishing house, and so did its endocrinological journal. Dörner’s editorship ended in 1992, after 18 years (like Tonutti’s editorship). In 1991, when the East German and West German endocrine societies merged, Dörner became an honorary member of the German Society of Endocrinology and German Diabetes Association. With the creation of the journal’s new title, “Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes” (ECED), and with the declaration of the journal as the official journal of the German Society of Endocrinology and German Diabetes Association, the singular political “story” of our journal in post-war Germany ended; the “endocrinological communities” in both parts of Germany had found a way to preserve their future.
Günter Dörner was born on July 13, 1929, in Hindenburg, Silesia (now Zabrze, Poland). After his Abitur (high school graduation) in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt, he studied medicine at the Humboldt University Berlin (Charité), where he received his Dr. med. (M.D.) degree in 1953.
Already as a student, he had started his scientific work at the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology of the Charité under the guidance of Professor Walter Hohlweg, a pioneer of neuroendocrinology and one of the fathers of the birth-control pill. After residencies in internal medicine and in gynecology & obstetrics elsewhere, Dörner was appointed resident at the “Hohlweg Institute” in 1957, became Assistant Professor in 1961 and one year later Acting Director of the institute, after Hohlweg returned to his homeland, Austria. In 1964, Dörner was appointed (Full) Professor of Experimental Endocrinology and Director of the Institute, which he remained until 1997.
As Director, Dörner reorganized the institute. Nearly all collaborators from the 4 different laboratories contributed with their scientific projects to the general topic of “Developmental Neuroendocrinology”. Already during the 1960s and 1970s, Dörner described the essential role of sex hormones in the sexual differentiation of the brain. Furthermore, he concluded that intracellular messengers such as hormones, neurotransmitters, and cytokines, are environment- and gene-dependent organizers of the brain as controllers of the neuro-endocrine-immune system [NEIS]. Unphysiological concentrations of these substances during the critical organization periods of the NEIS in prenatal and early postnatal development can act as “endogenous teratogens”, resulting in various developmental disorders, malfunctions, or diseases. Thereby, Dörner became one of the founders of a new subdiscipline of medicine, “functional teratology.”
Dörner went one step further, when he postulated that the malfunctions and developmental disorders could largely be prevented by optimizing the natural and social environment during the prenatal and early postnatal period. He was convinced of the great potential of such “neuroendocrine prophylaxis” for 21st century medicine.
Dörner contributed more than 470 original articles, 3 monographs, and more than 50 chapters in textbooks and handbooks to the international literature. He was President of 4 international congresses, founding member of multiple international societies, member of different international academies, among these the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, became honorary member of the endocrinological societies of Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia and of the Czech Sexological Society, and received an honorary doctorate in medicine from the Teikyo University of Tokyo. In 2002, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Grosses Verdienstkreuz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland).
In summary, Günter Dörner was one of the outstanding East German scientists and a pioneer of neuroendocrinology.