In Memoriam: Ulrich R. Müller

In Memoriam: Ulrich R. Müller

Arthur Helbling,1 Oliver Hausmann,2,7 Marek Jutel,3,4 Cezmi A. Akdis,5,6 Werner J Pichler*7

  1. Inselspital University Hospital Bern Switzerland
  2. Loewenpraxis and Klinik St.Anna Lucerne, Switzerland
  3. Department of Immunology, Wrocław Medical University, Wrocław, Poland
  4. ALL-MED Medical Research Institute, Wrocław, Poland
  5. Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF), University of Zurich, Davos, Switzerland
  6. Christine Kühne Center for Allergy Research and Education (CK- CARE), Davos, Switzerland
  7. ADR-AC GmbH, Bern, Switzerland

* Corresponding author: Werner J. Pichler

Marek Jutel ORCID ID: 0000-0003-1555-9379

Cezmi A. Akdis ORCID ID: 0000-0001-8020-019X

Oliver Hausmann ORCID ID: 0009-0001-8768-1456

In Memoriam Prof. Dr. med. Ulrich R. Müller, Bern

It is with deep sadness that we say goodbye to Prof. Ulrich Müller, a highly respected allergist and former chief physician of the Ziegler Hospital in Bern, Switzerland. Ulrich Müller passed away on the 8th of October 2023 in Bern. His work on insect venom allergies has led to improving diagnostic methods, development of new therapeutic approaches, and a higher quality of life for countless people with insect venom hypersenstivity in Switzerland and throughout the world. His life’s work will continue to bring well-being to generations of allergy patients.

Ulrich Müller was born shortly after his twin brother on December 3, 1941. He spent his childhood, school and adolescence in Bern, Switzerland, where he began his medical studies at the University of Bern, supplemented by semesters abroad in Paris, Vienna and London. In 1969 he met Uta Gierok, whom he married in 1970. They had two daughters, Tina and Yvonne.

He completed his training in internal medicine at the Inselspital/Bern, Switzerland, the Hammersmith Hospital in London, UK, the University of Basel, Switzerland, and finally at the Ziegler Hospital, Bern, (Switzerland), where he was quickly promoted to senior physician. Inspired by his clinical teacher Prof. R. Hoigné, he first became interested in drug allergies, but then his research progressively shifted towards insect venom allergies. In the canton of Bern, many people were dying from acute anaphylaxis to insect venom. Immunotherapy with whole-body extracts from bees proved to be useless, and new forms of therapy were needed. In 1979, Ueli and his family embarked on a 2-year fellowship at the Allergy Research Center with Dr. C. Arbesman/Dr. E. Middleton/Prof. R.E. Reisman in Buffalo General Hospital, Buffalo, NY, USA, where he learned biochemical methods to identify the allergenic proteins of the bee venom extracts. He contributed largely to introducing immunotherapy with purified insect venom proteins, which proved successful. Thousands of human deaths have been prevented thanks to his work.

After returning to Bern, he initially worked as a senior physician in the medical department of the Ziegler Hospital where he set up an allergy laboratory. He became a lecturer with the work “New therapeutic approaches for allergic diseases”. In 1981 he was appointed Chief Physician of the Medical Department, Ziegler Hospital, first together with Prof. R. Hoigné and later with Prof. K. Neftel. From mid-2000 until the end of 2006, he was the sole director of the Medical Clinic of the Ziegler Hospital.

Immunotherapy with bee and wasp venom extracts became his core research area. He focused on identifying a suitable allergen extract, optimizing the duration of treatment, reducing adverse reactions, and so on. He was interested in the management of insect allergies to improve patient care. The allergy laboratory at the Ziegler Hospital was regarded worldwide as a small “Mecca” for those who worked in this field. Patients came from Switzerland and other parts of the world for treatment and to participate in his research. Scientists from all around the world worked in the “allergy laboratory”. The first highlight of his scientific career was publishing the book “Insect Sting Allergy – Clinic, Diagnostics and Therapy”, Stuttgart; New York. Fischer, 1988, which was so successful that it was translated from its original German version into English (1990).

For decades, Ueli Müller was the key opinion leader in the field of insect venom allergies. He established clinical steps for diagnosis and the treatment schemes for prophylaxis and the management of acute adverse reactions. If there was a problem with insect sting allergies in Switzerland – one said: “Just ask the `bee-Müller” in Bern! His in-depth clinical training was highly valued as questions often arose on acute anaphylactic shock, the most dangerous allergic reaction, which Ueli knew better than anyone else.

He was known as an excellent speaker and for decades lectured on insect venom allergies, immunotherapy and anaphylaxis in major scientific meetings. His presentations were clear, simple, and clinically oriented. His competence was also recognized abroad and in 2001 he was awarded the title ‘Doctor honoris causa’ by the Wrocław Medical University in Poland for his contribution in advancing the field of allergology.

Prof. Müller was a leading member of the EAACI Working Group on Insect Venom Hypersensitivity for many years, served as a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and, last but not least, actively participated in the Swiss Society of Allergology and Immunology (SSAI). He was fluent in various languages and thus became a very eloquent president of SSAI from 2005-2007. Highly remarkable was the generous donation from himself and his family towards establishing the Ulrich Müller Gierok Allergy Foundation, which successfully supported practical allergological research in Switzerland for 10 years (2008-2018).

Although allergology was the focus of his scientific life, Ueli Müller was primarily a passionate medical doctor. As an excellent clinician and chief physician of internal medicine, Ueli was constantly present at the Zieglerspital. He continued to take part in the night and weekend shifts of the senior doctors, which was quite unusual for a chief physician. He had a profound clinical knowledge of the entire field of internal medicine. He was considered an outstanding clinical teacher: under his leadership, well over 100 assistants and senior physicians were trained.

Ueli Müller was an excellent clinician and outstanding allergist. ! However,  what made him stand out most was his human nature: he always remained humble, helpful, attentive and supportive of those willing to learn. He couldn’t stand laziness and sloppiness – and that was a good thing. Due to his social competence, even difficult changes in the hospital, which he had to implement as chief physician, were always supported by the medical team. As a colleague once whispered after a lecture by Ueli: ” Ueli is the epitome of the Swiss: reliable, with integrity, honesty, competent, incorruptible!” To this, we would like to add: an extraordinary commitment to the patients!

Ueli was cordial in his dealings – except on the football field, where he was a fierce defender. You could always feel his humour, openness and generosity. He and his wife Uta have been great hosts for many Bernese, Swiss and foreign guests.

After his retirement in 2007, he continued to be active, publishing various reviews and papers. He spent more time with the family and had a lot of fun with his granddaughters Amina and Smilla.

After the death of his beloved wife Uta in 2016, life became quieter around him. He withdrew more and more and spent the last few years in his home in Wabern/Bern. He died on Sunday, October 8, 2023, in Bern.

With Ueli Müller, the allergological community has lost an outstanding scientist and doctor, but above all a role model of competence, modesty and kindness. Ueli Müller was unique, we will miss him.

Arthur Helbling, Oliver Hausmann, Marek Jutel, Cezmi Akdis & Werner J Pichler

Link was copied!