Dr Hubertus Himmerich (ORCID: 0000-0003-1209-6073) is an Academic Editor and Board Member for Hindawi’s journal Disease Markers. After extensive training in Germany at the University of Mainz and the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich he then went on to become a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Eating Disorders at King's College, London. He regularly contributes to academic and peer-reviewed articles published in his field, mainly focussing on psychoimmunology and weight regulation.
What is your background and how did you become a researcher in your field?
I studied medicine at the University of Mainz in Germany. I was quite confused when I started medical school. Instead of focusing on medicine, I attended lectures in philosophy and ancient history and played piano. Finally, my Research MD supervisors, Otto Benkert and Armin Szegedi, dragged me into psychiatric research. I continued my training at the Max-Planck-Institute of Psychiatry in Munich under the guidance of Thomas Pollmächer and Florian Holsboer. This was the most defining period for me as a clinician and scientist. My supervisors who discovered my talent and ability gave me the necessary orientation and guidance to become an enthusiastic psychiatrist and researcher in both Germany and the United Kingdom.
What is your current area of research?
My two current areas of research are psychoimmunology and weight regulation. I find them fascinating because they cover the main regulatory systems of the body: the brain, the endocrine system and the immune system. They are also linked to our perception of the world, our social environment and to stress research.
As an Academic Editor for Disease Markers I get first-hand knowledge and see the results first for exploring measurable molecules and other biomarkers that reflect our lifestyle, health, and stages of diseases. And, in my experience, Hindawi is dedicated to publishing high-quality papers that are accessible to everybody. For example, last year, we published a paper I handled: “S100B, Homocysteine, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, and Procalcitonin Serum Levels in Remitters to Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Pilot Study”, by Hannah Maier et al., which reported that patients with depression who had particular levels of these biomarkers responded better to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Although this was a small pilot study, it proposed an interesting idea: to identify a subgroup who would benefit from ECT. To date, psychiatrists use trial and error because they don’t know whether a certain therapy will help the individual. Having predictive biomarkers would spare patients going through several therapies until one is found that works.
What attracted you to the position of Academic Editor in Disease Markers, and Hindawi as a publisher?
Disease Markers is so important for the field and relevant to society right now. A real-world example of this is when you have an appointment with your doctor, they will determine laboratory parameters, make an EEG or ECG or even do a genetic test to get information about the risk, the co-morbidities you might have and the best therapy for you as an individual. Thus, such disease markers provide invaluable information to inform the process of shared decision-making. I hope that disease markers will help us in the future to even prevent certain disorders and diseases. This should be possible, because this information can contribute to an individual risk profile.
Which issue do you feel is most urgent in your field of work and do you have any predictions for the future?
At present, I am very interested in obesity and eating disorders; they are definitely two of the biggest threats to modern societies, because they have many health consequences and increase mortality in a significant way. The prevalence is rising, and many more people are seeking help for these conditions. Therefore, we must act now. Promoting sound individual values, healthy food and physical activity, and thinking critically about social media and our society’s ideal of beauty seems key to me.
What important developments are happening in your field?
The latest research on the microbiome, on the contribution of the immune system and its messenger molecules to our thinking and on biological and specifically immunological therapies for eating disorders and obesity is extremely exciting. In the future, we will have completely new drugs which might, for example, target bacteria living in our gut instead of cells in our own body. I am not working on a special issue, at present, but I do have some plans in my mind for the future. However, I don’t want to spill the beans just yet. Watch this space!
What are your thoughts on Open Access? How has Open Access helped you in your research?
My opinion on Open Access is that it’s an amazing opportunity to reach the scientific community, the media and people all over the world. Some of my most-cited publications have appeared in Open Access journals. However, Open Access is a two-edged sword, because I am aware that scientists sometimes spend their own private money to get an article published in an Open Access journal, and I feel this shouldn’t be the case. There are ideas for having more open and transparent reviews. In the future, we might want more interactive ways to publish. A concern I sometimes have is whether the reported data really exists. We need to find ways to make sure that the articles really reflect what truly happened in the scientists’ lab.
What advice would you give to a PhD researcher trying to write their first article?
Anyone undertaking a PhD should write their first article under the supervision of an experienced author. Therefore, the whole process starts with choosing a good supervisor: someone with experience, ambition, understanding, and patience. My supervisors taught me the importance of clarity and structure. A PhD student might also need a clever and reliable statistician. Before writing an article, it is worthwhile thinking about whether all the areas of expertise that the article needs are covered by the team of authors.
This interview was conducted by the Hindawi team. It is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.