A giant- Meinhard Classen – has fallen.
I just received the sad news that Meinhard Classen has passed at the age of 83.
It is not possible to overstate his impact on the field of flexible endoscopy and gastroenterology, which have framed my career and passion. He was an inspiration to me and many other Brits in the early days when we were struggling to embrace the new procedures with little knowledge and fewer resources. He continued to inspire and lead us for 50 years.
In 1969 I was still training at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. I had one instrument (an Olympus GFB side-viewing gastroscope), and used it, unsupervised since no one else was interested, in a side-room of the basic science lab (“gut hut”) assisted by a bemused chemistry tech.
The Keymed company flew a few of us that year to Erlangen, Germany, where Meinhard was working with Ludwig Demling. We were gobsmacked at seeing a proper endoscopy unit with several pretty rooms, lots of scopes and specially trained nurses. We left empowered to emulate his example and to fight for the necessary resources and staff.
Meinhard hit me again the following year. He gave a lecture on “Duodenoscopy” at the Royal College of Physicians in London. This was exciting new territory for us, and he showed a few pictures of using a scope to cannulate the bile duct and pancreas, a procedure that the Japanese were pioneering, that they called EndoscopicCholangioPancreatoGraphy. Unbelievable!
That led me to go to Japan (via Iran for 6 months, another story), to work with Kasuei Ogoshi. I came back to Thomas’s, got a cancer grant to buy a duodenoscope, and was off and running. We called the procedure EndoscopicRetrograde CholangioPancreatography, and that name was ratified at the 1974 World Congress in Mexico City with Meinhard in attendance.
That same year he reported on the first therapeutic application of ERCP, endoscopic sphincterotomy, which ushered in a transformation in the management of biliary and pancreatic disease. This picture shows Meinhard and Demling at a meeting they held to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first sphincterotomy. The patient attended!
His subsequent career was equally impressive, teaching, mentoring, lecturing and publishing profusely and, not surprisingly, was elected to lead multiple professional organizations, not least the World Organizations of both Endoscopy and Gastroenterology. In those roles gave great support to younger professional societies, and pioneered training centers in emerging countries all over the world.
I had the privelege of interviewing him and other pioneers on the 40th anniversary of sphincterotomy https://www.cookmedical.com/endoscopy/40-years-of-interventional-ercp-stories-from-the-pioneers-volume-1/
Thank you, my friend, for getting me started, and on behalf of the millions who are now privileged to work in this exciting field.