Karl Julius Ullrich

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 19 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5842
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Renal physiology researcher who proved the countercurrent theory

It was 1943, the second world war was raging, and Karl Julius Ullrich, a 17 year old secondary school student, was drafted by the German military. As a non-commissioned officer he fought against advancing Allied soldiers, firstly in northern Italy and finally in south-central Germany, where, in February 1945, most of his platoon died in a bombing raid. Saved by fate, the young man was subsequently captured by the US army.

“He decided as a prisoner of war that he wanted to study medicine,” said Eberhard Frömter, a colleague and friend who now is professor emeritus of physiology at Goethe University of Frankfurt. “He felt at the time that the world needed doctors more than ever.”

But except for a brief stint as a country doctor in the early 1950s, Ullrich’s life focus was medical research. By the time he retired in 1993 as director of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt he was known globally as a top renal physiology researcher.

Transport mechanisms

“Karl had an enviable international reputation for both his scientific accomplishments and his leadership in the field of nephrology,” said Ernest Wright, professor of …

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