Congratulations to Dr Ursula Wachtel on her 100th birthday!

Dr Ursula Wachtel was born in Berlin on 10 June 1924, at the time of the early Weimar Republic, just six years after World War I. She was already four years old when little Liv Egeland was born in Norway – the first girl that a few years later was diagnosed by Prof Dr Asbjørn Følling with the rare disease now known as Phenylketonuria. At that time, Ursula Wachtel was already 10 years old.

In 1943, under difficult circumstances in the middle of the Second World War, she graduated from high school. And when she completed her doctorate in Berlin in 1954 at the age of 30, Professor Bickel was successfully treating little Sheila Jones with the PKU diet in Birmingham. It was a godsend for PKU patients that Dr Wachtel and Professor Bickel crossed paths in Marburg around 10 years later. That was when her fascination for the rare metabolic disorder and her love for the affected children began, and she virtually adopted them.

In the following decades, Dr Wachtel's commitment merged scientific curiosity, industrial opportunities and the needs of the families concerned. In the late 1960s, in a "modest laboratory under the roof of an office block near Hamburg harbour", she produced the first batches of a phenylalanine-free amino acid mixture fortified with vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

She was suspected of industrial spying and fell afoul of the food inspectorate when she drafted the first tables of phenylalanine content in foods and developed the first low-protein bread mix. As so many times before and since, she persistently and passionately convinced all sceptics and critics and thus made a significant contribution to PKU soon being described as a "model disease in paediatrics".

She continued this dedication to the children living with PKU and their families long after her professional career and volunteered as board member in both the ESPKU and the DIG PKU. And even today, at the impressive age of 100, she is still one of our ardent supporters with her invaluable experience and priceless advice. Her conviction and determination have opened many doors for us.

A few years ago, Dr Wachtel compiled her memories for the DIG PKU:

Sonderausgabe 2020-1 i.pdf