Jump to content
Powered by

Bernd Pichler: Specialist for preclinical imaging and imaging technology

The professorship is unique in Europe: In January 2008, Bernd Pichler received an endowed chair from the Werner Siemens Foundation for developing new, non-invasive imaging methods for research and clinic. The engineer is in charge of the Laboratory for Preclinical Imaging and Imaging Technology at the University Hospital in Tübingen.

Innovative interdisciplinary research areas are the perfect biotope for researchers with Goethe’s problem of “two souls in my breast” (Faust). Bernd Pichler has lived with this problem from early childhood. His father owned an electrical shop in the Bavarian city of Scheyern, which led the son to develop a liking for all things technological. But he was also fascinated by medicine. “When deciding on university courses, I found it very difficult to chose between mathematics, physics and medicine,” said Pichler.

The establishment of the electrotechnology course within the biomedical technology and cybernetics priority in Munich proved to be a piece of luck for him. Here, Pichler had the opportunity to reconcile all his interests. A practical course in the fourth semester introduced him to nuclear medicine, which finally developed into a specialist area. He did his degree and doctoral thesis at the Hospital of Nuclear Medicine at the University Hospital rechts der Isar in Munich, where he remained for part of his postdoctoral studies.
Professor doctor Bernd Engler presenting doctor Bernd Pichler the professorship certificate.
Prof. Dr. Bernd Engler (centre), the rector of Tübingen University, presenting Dr. Bernd Pichler (right) the professorship certificate. (Photo: University of Tübingen)

Pichler’s favourite topic: development of a small animal PET

An extraordinarily exciting project kept him in Munich for eight years: Pichler was involved in the development of a small animal PET (positron emission tomograph) which provides qualitative and quantitative imaging information on metabolic processes in living animals. During his doctoral work, Pichler established contacts with American colleagues and finally went to work at the University of California in Davis, USA for two years.

“I wanted to study and work abroad and did not want to miss the opportunity. But not everything that glitters in the USA is gold and it is no longer as easy as it was several years ago to get research grants in the USA,” said Pichler who always had plans to return to Germany despite the many interesting company contacts which he made in the USA, for example with Concorde Microsystems, a company that is nowadays part of the Siemens group and is doing important R&D work in preclinical and clinical imaging.
Prof. Dr. Bernd Pichler standing in front of the tomograph, preparing the MRI examination of a white rat.
Prof. Dr. Bernd Pichler preparing the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) examination of a rat (Photo: University of Tübingen)

Research must not be purely profit-oriented...

“For me it was clear that I wanted to continue working in academic settings because this offers me the scope and freedom to do the research I am really interested in. I also feel that it is very important that research exists that is not primarily profit-driven,” emphasised Pichler. He moved to Tübingen because of the excellent scientific environment. “The city itself wasn’t the real magnet,” admitted Pichler emphasising that “the university’s infrastructure, the department of radiology’s international reputation and, last but not least, the presence of a cyclotron for the production of radioactive isotopes convinced me to come to Tübingen.”

Tübingen University was also happy to be able to work with Pichler. “Professor Dr. Claus Claussen, director of the Department of Radiology at the University of Tübingen, was immediately thrilled by the idea of setting up a small-animal PET in Tübingen,” recalled Pichler. The financial aspect of his move to Tübingen was also positive. “I still had money from the National Institute of Health that had supported my work in the USA. And I was able to transfer this money to Tübingen,” said Pichler who has been the head of the Laboratory for Preclinical Imaging and Imaging Technology since 2005. It is his goal to transfer the methods from the small-animal PET to applications in humans.

...and companies will also benefit from his work

He has been working successfully with Siemens for several years, also in the field of device development. “In our high-technology field, we depend on cooperation with companies; and the relationship with Siemens is excellent,” confirmed Pichler. However, the endowed chair has nothing to do with this cooperation since it was established by the Werner Siemens Foundation of Switzerland that acts independently from Siemens itself. Pichler’s chair will be financed by the foundation up until 2017 – a time span that is long enough to provide sufficient scope for sustainable development.

Pichler is also working hard to further develop education and training, in which he is pursuing a three-stage strategy. “In the first stage, we use lectures and talks to explain to our students what we are doing. Then, we show them the laboratories and in the third stage we teach them how to successfully publish their research results.”
Pichler follows the motto “supporting and asking”. “Doctoral students need a real task,” said Pichler adding that, “a certain amount of freedom is necessary to cope with this task. As long as the framework of the funding institutions allows it, we will enable the young scientists to look beyond their particular field of research.” Pichler always allows his students three months to get acquainted with a topic and find an approach that best suits them.

Better integration of medical students with made-to-measure training programmes

If he could, then Pichler would like to have natural scientists, engineers and a larger number of medical PhD students than is currently possible. But this is associated with some logistical hurdles. “Medical students usually work on their doctoral degree at the end of the day’s classes, which only gives them a few hours per day to do their practical work, something that is not possible with the type of research we are doing. For example, when we receive short-lived isotopes, they have to be used immediately, and this is hardly possible when the students have to follow their normal curriculum,” said Pichler who sees one of his major teaching tasks as the establishment of an effective doctoral programme.

Pichler does most of the strategic planning of his many projects in his free time. “During the week, I am 100 per cent devoted to my job, which I enjoy very much. At the weekend, I spend about 50 per cent of my time on my job,” said Pichler who nevertheless manages to visit his Bavarian friends and family, enjoy basketball and travel to Canada or Norway.

leh - 25.03.2008
© BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH
Further information:
University Hospital Tübingen
Laboratory for Preclinical Imaging and Imaging Technology of the Werner Siemens Foundation
Prof. Dr. Bernd Pichler
Röntgenweg 13
72076 Tübingen
Tel.: +49 (0)7071 29-83427
Fax: +49 (0)7071 29-4451
E-mail: bernd.pichler@med.uni-tuebingen.de

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/bernd-pichler-specialist-for-preclinical-imaging-and-imaging-technology