Sucharit Punyaratabandhu Bhakdi

This page gives information on Prof. Sucharit Bhakdi, MD, who has played a leading role in shaping and communicating the message of the Doctors for COVID Ethics.

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1. Education and career

Prof. Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi was born on the first of November 1946, in Washington D.C., to his Thai parents then living in the United States. His father, Luang Dithakar Bhakdi, was a Thai Diplomat, and his mother, Saiyude Dithakar Bhakdi, was a medical doctor.

His father’s profession brought with it frequent moves between countries, which meant that Prof. Bhakdi spent his formative years in various places and immersed in their different cultures. The family left the United States in 1947 and relocated first to Switzerland and then to Thailand, where Prof. Bhakdi attended primary school. In 1954, after the Bhakdis moved to Cairo, Egypt, he attended the English School Heliopolis and Cairo American College. It was during this time – in 1959, at just 12 years old – that he was first inspired to pursue a career in medicine. The occasion was a visit to a communal hospital in Cairo run by a physician friend of his mother’s, where he saw the suffering of children who had lost their eyesight due to a bacterial infection that could have been cured.

“I was shocked to see children walking around with flies feeding on their eyes. My mother told me that a bacterium had infected their eyes, and they had gone blind. Their eyesight could have been saved if the diagnosis had been made in time. All one had to do was to apply an ointment named aureomycin. Doctors were badly needed throughout the world to care for the poor children. I decided I wanted to do that.”

In 1961, Prof. Bhakdi and his family returned to Thailand, where he completed his last two years of high school. Following his graduation, Prof. Bhakdi moved to Bonn, Germany, where he began his medical education at Bonn University in 1964. In 1970, he received his doctorate in medicine (Dr. med., an earned degree in Germany).

Between 1972 and 1977, Prof. Bhakdi pursued postdoctoral studies first at the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology and later at the Protein Laboratory at Copenhagen University. He then took up a professorship at the Institute of Medical Microbiology at Giessen University. In 1990, Prof. Bhakdi was appointed Head of the Institute of Medical Microbiology at Mainz University, a position which he held until his retirement in 2012.

2. Research

Prof. Bhakdi’s research is described in 314 PubMed-listed publications that he authored or co-authored, many of which are highly cited. The following summary will highlight some selected major contributions.

2.1. Pore-forming proteins

An important focus of Prof. Bhakdi’s research has been on protein molecules which damage cells by punching holes into their cell membranes. Such proteins are deployed by the immune system in its fight against microbes, but also by microbes in their attack on the human body; and many of the seminal discoveries in this field were indeed made by Prof. Bhakdi. In 1978, he and his Danish colleague Prof. Jørgen Tranum-Jensen published their research paper ‘Molecular nature of the complement lesion’ [1], which showed how the complement system, which is an important part of the human immune defense, kills bacterial cells or virus-infected body cells. This pioneering study, which was the first description of a pore-forming protein, earned him the Justus-Liebig Award in 1978 and the Constance Medical Award in 1980. In the following years, Profs. Bhakdi and (should we add his professional title here?) Tranum-Jensen continued their fruitful (suggestion: remove the word ‘fruitful’ here) collaboration; they gave an account of this work in their 1984 review article ‘Mechanism of complement cytolysis and the concept of channel-forming proteins’ [2].

Beginning in the early 1980s, Prof. Bhakdi turned his attention to bacterial toxins which damage and kill the cells of the human body, thereby disrupting the immune system and other physiological functions. He showed that many such toxins, like complement, act through the formation of pores in cell membranes. Important examples are Staphylococcus aureus α -toxin [3], Streptococcus pyogenes streptolysin O [4], and Escherichia coli hemolysin [5]. In his work on these toxins, Prof. Bhakdi collaborated with various other researchers, including Prof. Giancarlo Menestrina and again his friend Prof. Jørgen Tranum-Jensen. The two gave an overview of this research in their article ‘Damage to mammalian cells by proteins that form transmembrane pores’ [6].

In addition to elucidating the fundamental molecular mechanisms of action of these toxins, Prof. Bhakdi also investigated the pathophysiological consequences of their toxic effects. Some such aspects are discussed in his article ‘Pathogenesis of sepsis syndrome: possible relevance of pore-forming bacterial toxins’ [7]. For his discovery of pore-forming bacterial toxins and elucidating the consequences of membrane disruption, Prof. Bhakdi received several awards, including the Award of the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology (1987), the Dr. Sasse Award at the University of Berlin (1988), the Ludwig-Schunk Award at Giessen University (1989), the Robert Koch Award, Clausthal-Zellerfeld (1989), and the Guy-Lussac Humbolt Award for scientific discoveries that had resulted from his collaboration with French research groups.

2.2. Pathogenesis of atherosclerosis

While at the University of Mainz, Prof. Bhakdi began to study the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis – a condition in which the lining of the arteries thickens and hardens due to buildup of lipid-rich plaques in the inner lining of the arteries. The lipid contained in these plaques is derived from low-density lipoprotein (LDL), one of the major lipid transport particles found in blood plasma. Prof. Bhakdi championed the idea that the formation of these plaques, as well as the ensuing inflammation of the vessel walls, is initiated by the modification of LDL by some of the body’s own degradative enzymes. This research became the topic of Prof. Bhakdi’s 1995 article titled ‘On the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis: enzymatic transformation of human low density lipoprotein to an atherogenic moiety’ [8], which demonstrates that human LDL, but not other types of lipoproteins, can be altered in vitro by treatment with an enzyme combination to yield a lipid particle with atherogenic potential, and with properties akin to those previously reported for lipids extracted from atherosclerotic lesions. For his discoveries in the field of atherosclerosis, Prof. Bhakdi received the Gotthard Schettler Award and the German Society of Angiology Award in 1999. In 2001, he received the Aronson Award Berlin for lifetime contributions to the fields of complement, bacterial toxins, and atherosclerosis.

In the early 2000s, Prof. Bhakdi continued his research on atherosclerosis, which challenged the notion that LDL modification is always dangerous because it bestows inflammatory properties onto the lipoprotein. At that time, most current models considered oxidation to be the decisive modifying event. Instead, Prof. Bhakdi proposed that modification of tissue-entrapped LDL is required because it enables the lipoprotein to signal to the immune system and thereby effect its own removal. Additionally, he proposed that these physiological processes occur throughout one’s lifetime, usually without harm, and that the pathology only evolves when the body suffers overload. This work is reviewed in the 2004 article ‘Beyond cholesterol: the enigma of atherosclerosis revisited’ [9], which was considered paper of the year in the field of atherosclerosis. Prof. Bhakdi’s work on this subject was recognized with the Hauss-Award for Atherosclerosis Research in 2005. In 2009, Prof. Bhakdi received the Rudolf-Schönheimer Medal of the German Society for Atherosclerosis Research for his collective work from 1989 to 2008, which led to the formulation of a novel hypothesis on the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, called the Mainz Hypothesis.

2.3. Pathogenesis of malaria

Turning his attention again to infectious disease, Prof. Bhakdi began to investigate the pathogenesis of malaria tropica, a mosquito-borne disease caused by the eukaryotic parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The malaria parasites (plasmodia) multiply within red blood cells, feeding on the hemoglobin which these cells contain. The hemoglobin is broken down within a specialized organelle of the parasite, which is called the digestive vacuole. When the hemoglobin is depleted, the parasite causes the red blood cell to break apart, so that the parasite’s daughter cells will appear in the bloodstream. This release of parasite progeny into the bloodstream occurs on a synchronized schedule – all of the intracellular parasites within the circulation “pull the trigger” at the same time. This sudden, simultaneous appearance of progeny cells in the bloodstream taxes and may overwhelm the immune system’s capacity to destroy them.

Prof. Bhakdi discovered that, in this crucial moment of their exposure to the immune system within the bloodstream, the progeny cells receive succour from the digestive vacuoles, which are released from the decaying red blood cells alongside the parasite progeny. The vacuoles potently activate the complement system – which does, however, not harm the parasite, since the vacuoles are at this stage defunct anyway. They thus really serve as decoys, diverting the immune system’s resources from the real target, i.e., the progeny cells themselves. Moreover, the vacuoles also activate the blood clotting cascade, which agrees with the common observation of disseminated intravascular coagulation in severe malaria, and which further compromises the vigour of the host. These findings are discussed in the review article co-authored by Prof. Bhakdi, ‘Pathogenesis of malaria revisited’ [10].

2.4. Biological role of ADAM proteinases

Following his retirement in 2012, Prof. Bhakdi worked as a guest scientist at Kiel University’s Quincke Science Center in the research group of his wife, Prof. Karina Reiss, where he focused on the regulation of membrane-anchored proteinases (ADAMs). In particular, he studied ADAM10 and ADAM17, which are involved in the regulation of many physiological and pathophysiological processes, including cancer. In 2016, he co-authored the study ‘Phosphatidylserine exposure is required for ADAM17 sheddase function’ [11], which showed that the membrane constituent phosphatidylserine (PS) must be translocated from the inner leaflet of the cell membrane to the cell surface in order to activate the sheddase ADAM17. The implications of this finding for this enzyme’s physiological function are discussed in the review article ‘The plasma membrane: Penultimate regulator of ADAM sheddase function’ [12].

Prof. Bhakdi’s research contract with Kiel University was annulled by the school, without statement of reasons, in 2020 following the publication of his book “Corona – False Alarm?”

3. Service to the public and to the scientific and the medical community

In addition to his scientific and academic accomplishments, Prof. Bhakdi performed many kinds of public service during his career.

3.1. Teaching

Throughout his professorial career in Giessen and Mainz, Prof. Bhakdi taught medical students in bacteriology and immunology. His remarkable gift for grasping the simple core of seemingly complex questions, which enabled so many discoveries in his own research, also shaped his teaching style. Rather than bogging down in minutiae, he always focused on the truly central and fundamental principles – challenging his students to apply them for themselves and thereby predict the next twist of the unfolding narrative; and in his narration, deftly weaving together the history of medicine’s great discoveries with the scientific themes and questions of the day.

3.2. Interdisciplinary public lectures

Around the turn of the millennium, Prof. Bhakdi realized that German scholarship had lost the “Humboldt creed,” i.e., the tradition of striving for broad, interdisciplinary knowledge. He therefore conceived of a novel lecture series entitled “The Lives and Deaths of Famous Personalities,” in 2000, which recounted their achievements and then examined how these individuals had been influenced by their illness and suffering.

These lectures were open to the public and took place every Monday in the major lecture theatre of Mainz University Medical School. They quickly became famous, with people coming from neighboring cities to attend. Sometimes the audience would be sitting on the steps of the staircases. In every lecture, there would be one person leading through the life and achievements, and a medical doctor – usually a professor – would then explain the illnesses and the cause of death.

The lecture series ran for several years. Prof. Bhakdi himself, as a music lover, took up the great musicians – including the composers Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, and Schumann, but also great interpreters like Dinu Lipatti. His lectures on John F. Kennedy and the Thai King Rama V received standing ovations.

3.3. Editorship of “Medical Microbiology and Immunology”

From 1990 to 2021, Prof. Bhakdi served as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal “Medical Microbiology and Immunology.” Founded, under a different name, by Robert Koch himself in 1887, this journal had over time become marginalized within the discipline. Prof. Bhakdi was instrumental in reestablishing it as a noted journal within its field.

3.4. Microbiological laboratory diagnostics

The two Institutes of Medical Microbiology at Giessen and at Mainz provided diagnostic services in medical microbiology to the respective university hospitals, as well as to several off-campus clinics. Prof. Bhakdi was involved in this service “hands on” at Giessen and was responsible for the entire diagnostics department at Mainz. In addition to ensuring up-to-date and accurate diagnostic procedures, Prof. Bhakdi made a point of frequent consultations between laboratory specialists and clinicians, which he perceived as necessary for coming to correct diagnostic and therapeutic decisions.

3.5. Science-based guidance on public health

Beginning in 2000, Prof. Bhakdi became engaged in countering propagandistic, sensational, and unscientific news stories that were leading to mass panic, hysteria, and harmful preventive measures. In 2002, he and Dr. Jürgen Bohl published an article titled ‘Prions and the BSE mania – a critical appraisal’ in the official journal of the German Medical Association [13]. Alongside Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, Prof. Bhakdi was one of the first scientists in the world to point out the flawed science underpinning the swine flu “epidemic.” Together with Dr. Karl Lackner and Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Dörr, he published a critical analysis that warned against the premature widespread application of the unnecessary and potentially dangerous swine flu vaccine [14]. Additionally, Prof. Bhakdi was a vocal critic of the media-driven hysterias that broke out around bioweapons in 2001-2002, around SARS in 2003, and around certain pathogenic E. coli strains in 2010.

3.6. Advisory roles

From 1990, Prof. Bhakdi served as an advisor to the Centre of Molecular Medicine at Siriraj Hospital Mahidol University in Thailand; this was related to a research collaboration between him and physicians and scientists of this institution on the topic of dengue fever.

In 2003, Prof. Bhakdi received a personal invitation to serve as an advisor to the premier of Rhineland-Palatinate and his cabinet and to the minister of health in the province. Together with them, he organized a two-day symposium in 2003 that took place in the city of Mainz; it addressed pressing questions concerning the dangers and true relevance of infectious diseases and was open to the public. The premier and the health minister both attended, and the meeting made the headlines. In 2005, his activities were recognized with the Order of Merit of Rhineland Palatinate for his outstanding service to the province and its people.

4. Public advocacy and education in the COVID “pandemic”

Since the start of the COVID “pandemic” in 2020, Prof. Bhakdi has been working ceaselessly on informing the German and the international public about the nature of the disease, the magnitude of the threat posed by it, and the most appropriate response to it. Even though this effort has proven rather unpopular with the authorities, it is entirely in keeping with his deeply held belief that the practice of medicine must be grounded in truthful scientific analysis, and is a direct continuation of his previous years’ educational efforts, which had been recognized with advisory roles and formal honors. Some of his most important messages are these:

  1. The risk of disease and death posed by COVID-19, while real, is not out of the common and is comparable with that of influenza. It is noteworthy that leading epidemiologist Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford University, already in 2020, came to the same conclusion [15,16].
  2. Even though the virus is novel, most people will be protected by natural immunity, which is to a large degree due to cross-immunity conferred by previous infection with other, endemic coronaviruses. This can be predicted by applying known principles of antiviral immunity, and it accounts for the observed low infection fatality rate.
  3.  Vaccination against the virus by intramuscular injection will not prevent infection, and therefore will fail to prevent transmission. The many cases of COVID in “fully vaccinated” and “boosted” individuals have clearly vindicated Prof. Bhakdi’s prediction.
  4. Again starting from known principles of immunology, the gene-based vaccines must be expected to cause severe autoimmune-like cell and tissue destruction, particularly in the blood vessels. This prediction, first spelled out in an open letter by the Doctors for COVID Ethics to the European Medicines Agency, has unfortunately come to pass.

The scientific basis for the third and the fourth statements above has been laid out in a memo co-authored by Prof. Bhakdi and pathologist Prof. Arne Burkhardt, ‘On COVID vaccines: why they cannot work, and irrefutable evidence of their causative role in deaths after vaccination’ [17] Several memos co-authored by Prof. Bhakdi, which explore some of the relevant scientific questions at greater depth, can be found on the website of the Doctors for COVID Ethics. Prof. Bhakdi is a founding member of this group, which was established in 2021 to provide factual, science-based information on COVID-19 and the related gene-based vaccines. He has provided intellectual leadership to the organization and has contributed to its quarterly symposia.

Since 2020, and since the start of the COVID-19 “pandemic,” Prof. Bhakdi has been featured on several international news channels including FOX News and the Epoch Times to share his expertise on immunology, virology, microbiology, and infectious disease. Prof. Bhakdi’s educational videos produced since March 2020 have routinely received millions of views.

In late 2022, Prof. Bhakdi and Dr. Palmer’s work ‘Vascular and organ damage induced by mRNA vaccines: irrefutable proof of causality’ [18], summarizing evidence from experimental studies and from autopsies of patients deceased after vaccination, went viral. The article documents that mRNA vaccines do not stay at the injection site but instead travel throughout the body and accumulate in various organs. Additionally, the article summarizes that the mRNA vaccines induce long-lasting expression of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in many organs and cause inflammation, which can be fatal.

Currently, Prof. Bhakdi lives in the German countryside with his wife, Dr. Karina Reiss, and their young child. Prof. Bhakdi and Dr. Reiss have co-authored 16 scientific publications and three books, including the best-seller “Corona: False-Alarm?” which are is available in 10 languages.

References

  1. Bhakdi, S. and Tranum-Jensen, J. (1978) Molecular nature of the complement lesion. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 75:5655-5659
  2. Bhakdi, S. and Tranum-Jensen, J. (1984) Mechanism of complement cytolysis and the concept of channel-forming proteins. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B Biol. Sci. 306:311-24
  3. Füssle, R. et al. (1981) On the mechanism of membrane damage by Staphylococcus aureus α -toxin. J. Cell Biol. 91:83-94
  4. Bhakdi, S. et al. (1985) Mechanism of membrane damage by streptolysin-O. Infect. Immun. 47:52-60
  5. Menestrina, G. et al. (1987) Escherichia coli haemolysin forms voltage-dependent ion channels in lipid membranes. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 905:109-17
  6. Bhakdi, S. and Tranum-Jensen, J. (1987) Damage to mammalian cells by proteins that form transmembrane pores. Rev. Physiol. Biochem. Pharmacol. 107:147-223
  7. Bhakdi, S. et al. (1996) Pathogenesis of sepsis syndrome: possible relevance of pore-forming bacterial toxins. Curr. Top. Microbiol. Immunol. 216:101-118
  8. Bhakdi, S. et al. (1995) On the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis: enzymatic transformation of human low density lipoprotein to an atherogenic moiety. J. Exp. Med. 182:1959-71
  9. Bhakdi, S. et al. (2004) Beyond cholesterol: the enigma of atherosclerosis revisited. Thromb. Haemost. 91:639-645
  10. Dasari, P. and Bhakdi, S. (2012) Pathogenesis of malaria revisited. Med. Microbiol. Immunol. 201:599-604
  11. Sommer, A. et al. (2016) Phosphatidylserine exposure is required for ADAM17 sheddase function. Nat. Commun. 7:11523
  12. Reiss, K. and Bhakdi, S. (2017) The plasma membrane: Penultimate regulator of ADAM sheddase function. Biochim. Biophys. Acta Mol. Cell Res. 1864:2082-2087
  13. Bhakdi, S. and Bohl, J. (2002) Prionen und der “BSE-Wahnsinn’’: Eine kritische Bestandsaufnahme [Prions and the “BSE mania’’: a critical appraisal]. Deutsches Ärzteblatt 99:A-1134
  14. Bhakdi, S. et al. (2009) Possible hidden hazards of mass vaccination against new influenza A/H1N1: have the cardiovascular risks been adequately weighed?. Med. Microbiol. Immunol. 198:205-9
  15. Ioannidis, J.P.A. (2020) Infection fatality rate of COVID-19 inferred from seroprevalence data. Bull. World Health Organ. p. BLT.20.265892
  16. Ioannidis, J.P.A. (2020) Global perspective of COVID-19 epidemiology for a full-cycle pandemic. Eur. J. Clin. Invest. 50
  17. Bhakdi, S. and Burkhardt, A. (2021) On COVID vaccines: why they cannot work, and irrefutable evidence of their causative role in deaths after vaccination.
  18. Palmer, M. and Bhaki, S. (2022) Vascular and organ damage induced by mRNA vaccines: irrefutable proof of causality.