Prof. Dr. Reinhard Büttner
The 2016 World Pathology Conference is taking place in Cologne. Professor Reinhard Büttner, Director of the Institute of Pathology, University Hospital of Cologne, talks to us about the convention, why he feels at home in Cologne and why the pathologist in the popular German detective series Tatort isn’t really a pathologist.
CCB: Pathologists often play a prominent role in TV detective shows. What do pathologists actually do? And, in your opinion, what’s the biggest misunderstanding of pathologists out there?
Prof. Dr. Reinhard Büttner: Basically, the misunderstanding comes down to terminology. In American English pathology is an umbrella term that takes in various different medical disciplines. What we have come to know as pathology through detective shows is, in fact, known in Germany as forensic medicine. In German-speaking countries pathology involves diagnostics. Pathologists take tissue samples, put them under the microscope and make a diagnosis of disease. We are rarely involved with deaths.
In 2011 you took over the Institute of Pathology at the University Hospital of Cologne. What do you specialise in there?
I specialise in molecular pathology. That’s the diagnosis of genetic alterations in tissue – something that can be crucial for patients. Today, we believe that cancer occurs largely as a result of damage to genes. My task is to identify the tumour on the basis of the type of genetic alteration that’s occurred and ascertain the best course of therapy. We possess medicines capable of blocking particular types of genetic alteration and call what we do predictive pathology. In Cologne, there were colleagues who shared this interest. Looking back, it was a huge success and I’m very grateful.
You studied and conducted research in Mainz and Munich. You were in Texas, in London, in Regensburg and, later on, were a Professor at the RWTH in Aachen. Before coming to the University Hospital of Cologne, you headed up the Institute for Pathology in Bonn. What’s special about Cologne?
The people. There are lots of young people in Cologne. The university is very active and the city is home to an extremely diverse mix of people from all over the world. Cologne is very open. That’s evidenced by the number of artists that live here. Being down at the harbour or on the Cathedral square on a summer evening is really nice... I’ve lived in many other wonderful cities but I felt less at home in them.
The Cologne Convention Bureau has travelled half the world with you. In 2012, you were together in Cape Town. In March, you were in Seattle...
The reason for this is the World Pathology Conference, which is taking place in Cologne this summer. For Cologne, this is a huge scientific event and for pathologists, it’s like the Olympics. We’d been contending for it for years...
And now it’s coming to Cologne. Why?
The main argument is Cologne’s draw; it’s ability to attract as many people as possible. Then, of course, there are the soft factors. You look for locations where you can imagine having a holiday. Central Europe and Cologne is pretty attractive in that sense.
To what extent can you count on the CCB when planning the “Olympics”?
The CCB have advised us from day one to market ourselves! Even to the extent of going to Seattle during the US-Canadian Pathology Conference. Marketing a scientific conference of this magnitude was new for me and I was delighted to be involved. As scientists, we’re not used to people showing interest in us (laughs).
Will you now be involving CCB in the planning more often?
Certainly. The CCB markets lots of events from the viewpoint that you can invite people for the experiences on offer in Cologne, be they societal, cultural or scientific. I find that very exciting.
What does the conference mean for Cologne?
Basically, I see the conference as an expression of Cologne’s status as a science centre. Having the convention here will have an enhancing effect. Cologne will receive recognition from the internal medical community. In Pittsburgh, at our partner university, they refer to a specific symptomatic as the “Cologne Protocol”. That so many scientists are coming to Cologne is evidence that Cologne has become an attractive and visible international centre of medicine.
Where in Cologne will you take your colleagues?
Of course, we’ve got a social programme. Many scientists will come with partners and family. For them, we’ve put together an attractive programme of museum visits and, to top things off for the pathologists, an organ concert in the Cathedral, excursions and much more.
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