At the age of seventy, one could expect the typical person to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, perhaps basking in the love and affection of children and grandchildren. But Professor Otto Müller of George is no average retiree.
The grey hair belies a sharp intellect and his blue eyes peering from behind his thin-rimmed spectacles are forceful when he talks about his life’s work and his passion to help people. Turning seventy this month (in June), he has already retired twice, but with more work to be done in the field of medicine research, he is back in the saddle.
Born in the little village of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape (or KwaZulu-Natal depending on who you ask), Prof Müller has devoted his life to the advancement of medicine. He was the first professor of pharmacology at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, a position he held for twenty-seven years.
Evidently not one for the limelight, he shies away from questions about himself, steering the interview in the direction of his beloved medicine.
It takes an almost lethal dose of prodding to learn that the university awarded him the chancellor’s medal in recognition of his contribution to clinical pharmacology and the development of medicine. The authoritative South African Academy for Science and Arts also honoured him for the same accomplishment – twice!
However, it is the honorary doctorate in medicine – bestowed on him in 1998 by the University of the Free State – that he is most fond of and which, he says, best sums up his contribution to medicine.
True to his inquisitive nature, he reached a point (in 1997) when he felt it was time to explore the private sector. This led to him and a colleague, Dr Michelle Middle, establishing a private research company to conduct clinical trials on new medicines.
They chose George as their base – or haven if Prof Müller got his way. “We have been coming to Nature’s Valley since the 1990’s for holidays,” he says, and it is clear that the area lies close to his heart. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Free State, but I felt it was time to look for greener pastures – literally.”
He pauses for a second, measuring his words, before continuing. “It is a beautiful and peaceful area with a great ambiance,” and then with slightly more emphasis, “and it is safe.
“But that is not all. George has a solid medical fraternity, good infrastructure and a big enough workforce.” The challenge to involve research volunteers from areas remote from George has been admirably met through innovative recruitment strategies.
“We purposely avoided the big cities with medical schools that would be competition for us,” he offers his thoughts without further prodding. “In retrospect, I can honestly say we made the right decision.”
The company was sold three years ago, but still there was no rest for Prof Müller. He shrugged off retirement for the second time to start a medical consulting company, Integrow Health, with his son Frank.
This business led to his life taking an interesting new turn.
He received a call from Elexoma, who wanted him to assist them with developing and promoting their range of microcurrent electrotherapy products. “I had previous experience of this technology and am both keen and curious to become involved in more extensive research in this field.”
Their Elexoma Medic device offers MET (Microcurrent Electrobiologic Treatment) for the treatment of physiological conditions such as arthritis and soft tissue injuries and CES (Cranial Electrobiologic Stimulation) for psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and insomnia, according to Prof Müller.
These virtues have not gone unnoticed in the world of professional sport. The Vodacom Bulls was the first South African rugby franchise to incorporate it into their regime during their victorious Super 14 campaign last year, especially to fight off the effects of flight fatigue. This year the Vodacom Stormers followed suit.
Microcurrent electrotherapy is based on sound medical and scientific principles, explains Prof Müller. “It helps the body to recover its cellular equilibrium and in doing so it relieves pain and inflammation. The improved state of mind is the result of the rearrangement of chemical neurotransmitters in the brain.”
The treatment is non-invasive, pain-free and can substitute or complement the use of drugs, he says. It might seem like a leap for a man who has devoted his life to developing new medicine to become involved with a treatment that could replace some drugs, but Prof Müller says it has been a natural progression for him.
“I believe my life is Divinely pre-ordained,” he says. “Life is a series of opportunities and there are so many things waiting to be discovered, it just needs someone to lift the lid and see what is in the pot beneath.
“My familiarity with the human body and medicine gives me an advantage when studying the use and effects of microcurrent electrotherapy on certain conditions. It is essential that one understands how the body and diseases work to be able to ascertain how this technology can be used by itself or in conjunction with drugs to treat conditions like depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.”
Prof Müller is optimistic that the research will lead to new discoveries regarding the technology and its uses. “A lot of diseases are stress-related and since it can assist to de-stress the body, we might find that it can help prevent conditions like cardiovascular diseases.
“I am very excited about the possibilities,” he says, his enthusiasm palpable. “Many of the physiological changes resulting from the use of microcurrent electrotherapy are similar to those brought about by drugs. The big difference is that the technology doesn’t have side effects.”
The device is mobile and can be used at home, he says. “Another big advantage is cost saving as it might be possible to avoid using expensive drugs.
“Modern times call for a holistic approach,” says Prof Müller, who has been in a fortunate position to experience the evolvement of the field firsthand. “Things like diet and lifestyle play a huge role and if we can avoid or combine the use of drugs with microcurrent electrotherapy, we can improve people’s quality of life – for sure.”
While it is clear where his passion lies, Prof Müller does have other interests that occupy his time. He loves music and exploring the outdoors in his 4×4. “I enjoy tackling routes that even a baboon would not attempt and discovering God’s creation.”
However, with his family firmly entrenched in the medical field, there is no getting away from his calling. His wife, Gundel, is also a medical doctor. They met at medical school where he was one year ahead of her.
His son and business partner, Frank, is a medical doctor, his eldest daughter, Muchi, is an occupational therapist and his youngest daughter, Ischen, is qualified in sports medicine.
“The highlights of my career were being able to teach undergraduate and postgraduate medical students, and to do research,” says Prof Müller. “I am a scientist by nature and I thrive on broadening my knowledge and searching for the logic in things.
“To be able to help people solve their health problems and to improve their quality of life, that is what truly excites me. I can see myself involved with research for as long as I still have an active career.”
Full Stop Communications
On behalf of:
Jean Labuschagne (Elexoma)