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Professional interview: Professor Oliver Eickelberg

Professional interview: Professor Oliver Eickelberg

Professor Oliver Eickelberg, Chairman of the Comprehensive Pneumology Center (CPC) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and Chair of the ERS 2014 International Congress, talks to us about the upcoming Congress and the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign, which will be launched in Munich.

Can you tell us about your area of work?

I work in the field of respiratory research, looking at why we develop lung diseases and how we can cure them. My two main foci are lung fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I am fascinated by how lung structure and function changes when a person develops a disease. For example, in lung fibrosis, my research focuses on how the lung becomes scarred, and, for COPD, we look at how the airways become narrowed, causing breathlessness.

How did you become involved in this field?

In some ways, it was serendipity that led me to the field of medicine. All my family were engineers and I was encouraged to do the same. However, when I was in school, the father of my girlfriend at the time was a physician and I had many conversations with him about his work. This developed into a gradual way of life and thinking that drew me towards medicine. I applied for three different courses when I went to university: photography, engineering and medicine. I got onto all three, but I chose the latter.

I had asthma as a child and my experience of living with this encouraged me to focus my study on respiratory diseases. I had allergic asthma, which was triggered by pollen, moulds and dust. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are from the inside of bathrooms – I preferred staying in these during attacks, as there was usually no carpets and mould there and and I felt like I could finally relax and breathe!

Can you tell us about the main highlights of this year’s Congress?

For me, there are three main highlights of this year’s ERS Congress.

The inaugural Healthy Lungs for Life campaign is my first highlight. This global campaign is helping to raise the profile of lung health and I’m delighted that Munich is the first city to host this initiative. It is the first campaign to reach out to professionals, policymakers and the public through a range of events, not only in Munich, but across the world. It will be a privilege for me to open the lung tent in Munich centre and to bring a festival of lung health to my own city.

I am also excited about the official Opening Ceremony of the congress. As Congress Chair, this is a key part of the role in ensuring all the delegates are welcomed to the city and officially opening the start of the Congress. The preparations will be kept secret until the day, but for now I will say that it will be a great spectacle of art and music, showcasing some of Munich’s finest features. If you are in Munich, I look forward to seeing you there!

And last, but not least, is the scientific programme of the Congress. This is the main event in the calendar of respiratory professionals, who come to the Congress to learn about the latest developments in respiratory medicine to advance their careers. It will also be my pleasure to welcome the patient organisations to the congress – it is great to see a number of patient speakers presenting their perspectives in scientific sessions.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The greatest thing for me is to know that I am helping to generate new knowledge in the respiratory field. It is a passion of mine to help mankind understand more about diseases and how they impact us, with the main aim of developing new treatments and cures. I also enjoy working with people of all ages, from small children up to elderly people who have a wealth of experience about the world and their condition. My work is more than a job for me. It is 24/7 and it is a way of life.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of seeing mentees go on to develop their own career. After supporting a student or PostDoc working in the field, it is such a great moment to see them go on to become an independent investigator, a professor or receive a reward. This is a usually a much prouder moment for me than having my own papers published. 

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