About us Professor Markus Heim
Anyone who is dealing with conditions of the gastrointestinal tract in the Basel metropolitan region can turn to an organisation that stands for innovative high-performance medicine on an international level: as a centre of excellence of the Claraspital hospital, the Clarunis University Center for Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases in Basel has established a reputation which even extends beyond the borders of Switzerland. When it comes to conditions which can occur in connection with the liver, the Clarunis Liver and Liver Cancer Centre boasts two highly-specialised liver surgeons who are able to treat all conditions with university-level expertise: Professor Markus Heim and Professor Otto Kollmar.
The liver is the largest gland in our body and is the primary organ responsible for our metabolism: the liver utilises vital nutritional components, produces bile and proteins and detoxifies the body. This means that there are many reasons why your liver needs to be working at all times. If it is not working properly at any point, you should contact a renowned specialist right away and choose someone who has been specialising in the very important functional unit of the liver and gall bladder for a long time.
Patients with liver problems are in the right place at the Clarunis University Center for Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases in Basel. At this organisation, which is directed by Professor Markus Heim and Professor Otto Kollmar, patients receive top-class medical care which demonstrably far exceeds common standards in all areas of the broad field of abdominal surgery.
Since the liver, with its numerous functions, is a particularly versatile organ, it is accordingly particularly susceptible to many conditions. This is no surprise when you think about the fact that it is the central “factory” which produces proteins, as well as working as a “filtration system” and hosting immune cells. It is therefore clear that functional issues with or conditions of the liver could have serious consequences in a short period of time. The problem with this is that until the liver draws attention to itself with noticeable pain, it generally only leads to rather unspecific symptoms, such as tiredness or difficulty concentrating.
Diseases of the liver: Top-class diagnostics
This means that lots of people are unaware that they are suffering from diseases of the liver or hepatopathies. In fact, a quarter of all patients who report with unspecific complaints or attend check-ups have dramatically increased results in liver function tests. This shows the importance of early detection. Since patients who do not have any abnormal liver function test results may still have a condition, the quality of the diagnosis can be extremely important. When the liver stops doing its job, the patient’s life is acutely at risk almost immediately.
Therefore, it is important that the highly-specialised team at the Clarunis Liver and Liver Cancer Centre has an excellent understanding of the state-of-the-art applications and methods in liver diagnostics. Changes in the liver are generally detected with an ultrasound scan, including with the use of contrast. In order to clarify conclusively whether the changes are benign or malignant, more imaging procedures are available, such as magnetic resonance imaging or computer tomography. Jaundice is also another common symptom of liver conditions.
Interdisciplinary approach: Focus on people
This means that the quality of the diagnosis quickly provides certainty, meaning that action can be taken promptly too. If the patient has a liver tumour or a malignant growth, the right measures should be taken immediately. In this case, it is important to rely on a top-class interdisciplinary team that is constantly consulting with all the important disciplines, with oncology, radiology, radiotherapy, anaesthesia and intensive medicine, as well as with nutrition medicine and physiotherapy.
Benign changes to the liver are often diagnosed, for example a liver cyst, which is normally harmless. If a cyst causes issues, it will generally be removed as part of a minimally invasive procedure. A liver abscess, i.e. an accumulation of pus, which can cause fever and upper abdominal pain, is a benign condition and is generally treated with medication or in a minor operation. Vascular dilation, i.e. haemangioma, is also treated in Basel. And benign liver tumours, such as focal nodular hyperplasia or non-cancerous tumours, are also treated with surgical methods if they are causing liver bleeds, for example.
However, in cases in which cancer is diagnosed, the expertise of the chief physicians, Professor Markus Heim and Professor Otto Kollmar, is particularly important. This is because intervention is essential in cancer patients and, in particular for tumour surgery, surgical precision is a very important factor in the patient’s prognosis. Since liver cancer only rarely causes symptoms at the beginning, patients should definitely consult highly-specialised physicians with a great deal of experience in the field if they have even the slightest suspicion they may have liver cancer.
The first step at the Clarunis Liver and Liver Cancer Centre is to determine whether the liver cancer is presenting as a metastasis of cancer elsewhere or whether it is coming directly from the liver cells as primary liver cancer. At our latitude, liver cancer generally occurs as a result of cirrhosis of the liver, the triggers of which can be fatty liver disease as a result of obesity, as well as long-term alcohol consumption and chronic viral infections such as hepatitis.
Professor Heim and Professor Kollmar have a wealth of experience when it comes to complex tumour operations on the liver. If parts of the liver need to be removed, i.e. a liver resection is required, the liver cancer must be removed without leaving any residue. This highlights the clear philosophy which the Clarunis University Center for Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases in Basel implements to ensure it provides top-class medical care: all operations are carried out by experienced consultants. Therefore, it goes without saying that the operations have a very low complication rate when compared internationally and stand out thanks to better long-term results. This has been proven by scientific studies and feedback from patients. The Tumour Board is also one of the guarantors of the verifiably above-average results: when the Board convenes, multiple internationally renowned consultants work together to decide which procedure is best in each case.
As part of the top-class liver surgery, innovative alternative methods are also offered in Basel, such as a wide range of tumour destruction measures using ablation, which destroys tumours by applying heat. And if a liver transplant is required, both chief physicians at the centre in Basel also have an excellent reputation.
The Clarunis Liver and Liver Cancer Centre has also established an international reputation in a very short period of time in the field of the very rare tumours which come from the liver bile ducts. Cholangiocellular carcinoma, which not only affects the liver but can also spread to the main bile duct, is generally triggered by inflammation in the bile ducts or a bile blockage or by chronic inflammatory bowel conditions. The treatment of bile duct cancer is an excellent example of the patient-oriented approach of the Clarunis University Center for Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases, with which it, as a centre of excellence of the University Hospital of Basel and Claraspital hospital draws attention internationally in the field of high-performance medicine: this is because patients suffering from this rare type of cancer particularly benefit from the combination of the fields of abdominal surgery, gastroenterology and hepatology.
The main focus of Professor Heim and Professor Kollmar and their entire team, particularly when it comes to tumours, is on improving the patient’s prognosis with regard to survival and ensuring the highest possible quality of life for the patient. The choice of surgical intervention is made individually in each case: Will open surgery be beneficial? Will a laparoscopic procedure that is established in liver surgery be developed? Will robotic surgery be used? State-of-the-art imaging procedures provide support to the experts here too, for example the three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of a liver. Modern interventional radiology is also often used in Basel in order to, for example, achieve the successful treatment of gall bladder tumours or cancer of the bile tract. And embolization of the portal vein can increase the functional reserve of the liver and thus increase the growth and recovery of the remaining liver.
This is also part of the organisation’s philosophy: patients who receive treatment at the Clarunis Liver and Liver Cancer Centre have a dedicated expert point of contact from the beginning. Two chief physicians manage a specialist team of doctors:
Professor Markus Heim, Chief Physician in Gastroenterology and Hepatology, has made a name for himself in the international scientific field by developing new forms of treatment for viral chronic hepatitis, for example, and is therefore a recognised expert in inflammatory conditions of the liver. His investigation of the interferon effect in the liver and his research into how liver cancer starts has attracted a great deal of attention.
After completing his studies in Basel, he worked at the University Hospital of Basel as a junior doctor and started specialising in liver conditions during this period. Also acting as the Research Group Director of the Hepatology Institute for Biomedicine at the University of Basel, he was a Senior Physician and Hepatology Director at the University Hospital of Basel for a long time. In 2003, he was appointed a titular professor at the University of Basel and became a Professor of Hepatology in 2009. With the exception of a two-year period spent as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University New York and a year spent in the German city of Freiburg, he has spent his entire career in this city on the Rhine and therefore knows the country and its people very well indeed.
Professor Otto Kollmar is the Deputy Chief Physician across multiple organisations at the Clarunis University Center for Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases in Basel. Since 2019, he has been the Director of Hepatobiliary Surgery. And in order to continue developing abdominal tumour surgery, he makes a key contribution to this field by developing open and minimally invasive surgical techniques thanks to his wide range of expertise in gentle techniques. People with bowel conditions and problems with the thyroid, parathyroid glands and adrenal glands also benefit from his expertise.
This doctor, who was born in Kassel, is a renowned expert in the field of tumour surgery. His studies took him to Berlin, namely, the Free University of Berlin and Charité in Berlin. He completed his surgical training at the Clinical for Abdominal and Transplant Surgery at Inselspital hospital in Bern. After a long period spent working at Saarland University Hospital, where he was appointed as an Adjunct Professor at Saarland University in 2011, he worked at the University Medical Faculty in Göttingen and then become the director of a clinic for general and abdominal surgery in Wiesbaden.
The chief physicians and their team also received recognition of the high quality of the Clarunis Liver and Liver Cancer Centre in Basel from a top organisation in the field: on the basis of its excellent results, the German Cancer Society certified the centre in 2020, making it only the second centre of its kind to receive this accolade in the whole of Switzerland. This means that patients can be confident that top international quality guidelines are observed. As such, the lively border area between Germany and France boasts an outstanding organisation for treating any problems with the liver and any issues which may potentially be associated with this organ.