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Dr. Horst Bickel – Leader Of PKU Revolution

German doctor Horst Bickel (1918. – 2000.) was responsable for discovering the first dietary therapy for phenylketonuria (PKU) patients. Nutritional formula, discovered by Dr. Bickel and his colleagues in 1951., improved the life quality of thousands of PKU patients, helping them to lead a normal and healthy life.

Dr. Horst Bickel was born on June 28, 1918. in Hamburg, Germany. He studied medicine at the various universities (Berlin, Lausanne, Freiburg, Munich, Greifswald), but earned his MD title at the Vienna Medical University. From 1945. – 1949. Dr. Bickel finished his paediatrics specialization in Hamburg (1945. – 1947.) and Zurich (1947. – 1949.). After his specialization, he spent the next five years in Birmingham’s University Children’s hospital, researching metabolism inborn errors, one of them being Phenylketonuria disorder.

Together with his English colleagues – Dr. John Gerradand, Dr. Louis Woolf and Dr. Evelyn Hickmans – Dr. Bickel developed the first diet treatment for PKU patients. In order to obtain desired formula, Dr. Bickel used the milk protein casein and charcoal to separate Phenylalanine (Phe) and two other amino acids from the milk protein. He finally added small amounts of Phe and tyrosine to his formula. In 1953. Dr. Bickel published his discoveries in Lancet medical journal.

This formula was first tested on a 2-year old Sheila Jones and even though her PKU symptoms improved, the girl still remained mentally handicapped. However, as doctors later realized, children should take the reduced Phe milk protein immediately after birth and stay on a low Phe diet for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Horst Bickel retired in 1987. as a Chairman and Director of the University Children’s Hospital in Heidelberg, He also researched other metabolic disorders like cystinosis, maple syrup urine disease, homocystinuria and Wilson disease. In 1994., together with Helmut Brehl, the managing director of SHS Society for Clinical Nutrition in Heilbronn, he founded the “Horst Bickel Award” which rewards special achievements in inborn metabolism disorders field.

Want to learn more?


“The PKU Paradox: A Short History of a Genetic Disease” by Diane B. Paul and Jeffrey P. Brosco.

“Robert Guthrie–The Pku Story: Crusade Against Mental Retardation” by Jean Holt Koch.

“Low Protein Cookery for Phenylketonuria” by Virginia E. Schuett.

“Low Protein Food List for PKU” by Virginia E. Schuett.

“Low Protein Bread Machine Baking for PKU” by Virginia E. Schuett.

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