My first academic training, and my first academic job was way back in the 1970ies: I graduated from studying educational science and history at Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in 1973, and for the next years worked (studied, published, taught) at the Institute of Law Didactics, University of Hannover, Germany, until realized that my heart belongs to the empirical rather than the hermeneutic world.
Following studies in psychology at the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg (until 1982) and a post-graduate training period at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA), I received a doctorate (PhD) at the University of Tübingen in 1985. From 1985 to 1998, I worked as a scientist at the University Hospital Düsseldorf, Department of Gastroenterology, with a main focus of gastrointestinal motility and some specialization in anorectal physiology, which made me an expert in studying, diagnosing and treating patients with fecal incontinence and constipation - I was the one bringing biofeedback training for fecal incontinence to Germany, and the first breath hydrogen testing machine for diagnosing lactose malabsorption in Germany was in my luggage on my way from Baltimore to Düsseldorf.
In 1993, I was promoted to "Lecturer" (Privatdozent) at the University of Bochum, Germany, and in October 1998, I moved to Tübingen and became Director of Research at the University Hospital Tübingen, first at the Department of General Surgery, since 2004 at the Department of Internal Medicine VI (Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy) - my coming home. In 2000, I was promoted to Professor at the University Medical School in Tübingen. I formally retired in January 2015, turning 65 years the year before, but neither I, not my immediate environment (means: colleagues and friends) could image me sitting at home reading one book after the other. The department offered me a part-time position (that a keep for the time being), some industry collaborators asking for advice ever since, and since I always enjoyed writing, I have continued science publishing and have started popular science writing.
Over the years, my focus has changed, and has stayed the same as well: gastrointestinal physiology with a focus on bowel functions and function bowel disorders is just one that accompanies me, ever since 1980 when I did some training in the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, Hannover Medical School. Stress research and gastrointestinal psychophysiology is just one step further, away from the clinical into a basic science world. The latest result of this is a paper (2019) on the ability of the gut to learn, to remember and to forget - that I shared with two old friends, Michael Schemann and Thomas Frieling. Together with these two, I have also published a popular science book (in 2017: Darm an Hirn - Der geheime Dialog unserer beiden Nervensystem und seiN Einfluß auf unser Leben; Herder Verlag) about gut - brain interactions. The more scientific version of it is another textbook, published 2017 by DeGruyter, Berlin (Frieling(Schemann/Enck: Neurogastroenterologie)
A topic that - as no other at the border between medicine and psychology - has caught my attention around 2000: this was placebo research, the ability of inert pills (and empathy and communication) to improve the health status of patients - it has become my major area of research for almost 20 years, and nearly 20% of my more than 500 publications. I have established a database (www.jips.online) of more than 4500 placebo publications that received a recognition award in 2019. Placebo research has received the largest public attention of all my topics, with many appearances and interviews in the media (TV, radio, newspaper). This has only recently been replaced by another topic of interest of mine, microbiota (gut flora) and its relevance for health and disease: for five years until 2020 I was the press chief of a highly acclaimed website with the latest news for both scientists and the lay public on "gut microbiota for health" of the European Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (ESNM) (www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com).
Being asked what should be written one day on my grave stone (only psychologists do pose such questions, to themselves or their clients) it would be my engagement to foster young scientists to become independent researchers: Together with Michael Schemann, I have initiated in 1989 a still successfully running bi-annual young investor forum (called Little Brain Big Brain, LBBB), I was among the first to establish summer schools in Neurogastroenterology, I was long-time treasurer and board member of the Germany Society of Neurogastroenterology (DGNM) as well as its European counter-part, the ESNM, and the principle investigator of the European Community sponsored Training Network NeuroGUT (2014-2018).
What others would probably print on my grave stone: In 1982, so quite early in my career, I received an awards by the Gastroenterology Society of Northrhine-Westphalia, for a start. In 2011, was awarded the Masters Award for Sustained Clinical Achievements by the American Gastroenterology Society, and in 2015, I received the Günther Jantschek Stipend of the German College of Psychosomatic Medicine. And in 2020, I received a lifetime achievement award by the Neurogastroenterology Foundation (Stiftung Neurogastroenterologie) in Germany. Time to rests and retire? No way ...
After more than 700 lectures, seminars and workshops, I felt the need for another change that allows me to work from my desk rather than to continue traveling around the world: Together with an old friend, Michael Schemann (again) and with a new friend, Gunther Mai, history professor emeritus at the University of Erfurt, we started a medical history project in 2018, the search for the roots of Dr. Carl Lüderitz that has produced an archive (see this webpage) and finally resulted in another book just released (see here). With that background, I am now enjoying popular history writing in my new Berlin environment (see here).
One of my very early engagements was with flight and space medicine, and while I thought that I had dropped it almost completely, it came back to me recently: Together with a smart nutritional scientist, Isabelle Mack, we are investigating immune, microbiome and genetic changes during winter-over of 13 volunteer scientists at the French/Italian Antarctic station CONCORDIA on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) for the third year in a row, with more to come. This is project ICELAND in collaboration with international colleagues such as John Penders from Maastricht, Claude Lambert from St. Etienne and Joel Doré from Paris.
And I have initiated – at the University of Tübingen Medical School and hospital – the build-up of a twin registry, something clearly missing in Germany. The progress of the TwinHealth project can be checked here: www.Zwillingsgesundheit.de. This projects will survive me by definition, as it starts with twins born now, and once they will be adults, I will be gone.
Interested in my science writings?
Interested in my placebo research database?