Heinz Penin

1924 - 2020

Heinz Penin was born on 29 November 1924 in Trier, Germany, and after three years of military service completed his university studies in Bonn and Freiburg. In 1954 he began his residency training in neurology and psychiatry in Bonn, most recently with Hans Jörg Weitbrecht (1909-1975). In 1957-58 he underwent additional EEG training with Richard Jung in Freiburg.

In 1965 Heinz Penin did his PhD thesis for neurology and psychiatry and became a senior physician at the University Nervous Hospital Bonn. In 1969 he was appointed as adjunct professor, and in 1970 head of the newly created Department of Clinical Neurophysiology and Experimental Neuropsychiatry of the Nervous Clinic. After Weitbrecht's death in 1975, Penin became acting director and in the following years mastered with great skill the division into independent departments of neurology and psychiatry. Although he himself had been offered the chair for neurology, he chose the much smaller department of epileptology, newly founded on the recommendation of the German Council of Science and Humanities, and from 1978 onwards he was the first holder of a chair of epileptology in Germany - the first ever in Europe - at the University of Bonn until his retirement in 1990.

From 1968 to 1969 Heinz Penin was President of the German EEG Society (since 1996: German Society for Clinical Neurophysiology and Functional Imaging) and from 1971 to 1973 Chairman of the German Chapter of the ILAE (since 2004: German Society for Epilepsy: DGfE). He was the initiator and spokesman of the first funding programme for epilepsy research of the German Research Foundation (DFG), since 1976 founding and board member of the Epilepsy Curatorium, and from 1977 to 1983 coordinator of the DFG's priority programme "Epilepsy Research". Awards included being appointed "Ambassador for Epilepsy" by the ILAE and the IBE in 1981, the award of the Federal Cross of Merit First Class in 1990 and the Honorary Membership (1) in 1994 and the Otfrid Foerster Medal of the DGfE (2) in 2012.

Heinz Penin greatest contribution to epileptology is undoubtedly the introduction of the registration of epileptic seizures, which at that time was initially called magnetic image recording, and in particular the invention of the Video-EEG double-image corecording for epilepsy diagnostics, which he created by using discarded devices of German Television ZDF with electronic editing methods and magnetic image recording. He thus developed a technology that revolutionized epileptology and was able to realize his vision of objective documentation of seizure symptoms (3,4). This procedure enabled both a better understanding of the epileptogenic processes as well as a more meaningful classification of seizures and helped decisively in the development of modern epilepsy surgery. He published his invention, as was unfortunately customary at the time, without a patent application in a German trade journal for technical medicine, which was not perceived in Anglo-Saxon literature, which is why for years later an English publication was considered the origin of the technology.

Heinz Penin also used the video recordings of seizures in his student lectures and during further medical training to document the course of neurological and psychiatric illnesses. When interpreting the EEG, he paid particular attention to the dynamics of the changes and coined the terms aidorhythmia and parenrhythmia for almost continuous, monomorphic and monorhythmic, mostly higher-amplitude activity or activity that is to be distinguished from a general change, continuous dysrhythmia (a term no longer used today) or basic rhythm variant, or Paroxysmal groups of theta rhythms in a more rapid basic activity. In addition, he dealt with studies to prove autochthonous cerebral primidone effects as well as the clinical objectification of effects and side effects of anticonvulsants.

In addition to numerous journal and book contributions, Heinz Penin was also (co-) editor of several books (5-8), including the memoir Epilepsy of the German Research Foundation of 1973 and the Epilepsy Report 1985 of the Epilepsy Curatorium.

Heinz Penin was a humble man who purposefully developed the clinic for epileptics through close cooperation with experimental institutions. As a leader, he was extraordinarily skilful, balancing and humane, and he stood aside. He treated his patients with great empathy, which led to decades of loyalty. He was one of the three important doyens or grandseigneurs of German adult epileptics. By inventing video double image recording, he has a permanent place in international epileptics.

Our sympathies go out to his family.

Günter Krämer, Hermann Stefan, Christian E. Elger

1) Doose H. Ehrenmitgliedschaft Prof. Dr. Heinz Penin. Epilepsie-Blätter 1994; 7: 63–64
2) Stefan H. Laudatio Zur Verleihung der Otfrid-Foerster-Medaille an Prof. Dr. Heinz Penin. Z Epileptol 2012; 25: 134
3) Penin H. Neuartige Diagnostik und Forschungsanlagen in der Universitäts-Nervenklinik Bonn. Acta Medico Techn 1968; 16: 76–78
4) Penin H, Köhler KG. Audio-visuelle Methoden in Neurologie und Psychiatrie. Fortschr Med 1970; 88: 951–952 und 1037–1040
5) Penin H, Käufer C, Hrsg. Der Hirntod. Todeszeitbestimmung bei irreversiblem Funktionsverlust des Gehirns. Symposion am 14. Dezember 1968 in Bonn. Stuttgart, G. Thieme 1969
6) Penin H, Hrsg. Psychische Störungen bei Epilepsie. Psychosen, Verstimmungen, Persönlichkeitsveränderungen. 14. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Sektion der Internationalen Liga gegen Epilepsie, Bonn, 13. und 14. Oktober 1972. Stuttgart – New York, F. K. Schattauer 1973
7) Janz D, in Zusammenarbeit mit Coper H, Creutzfeldt O, Doose H et al. Denkschrift Epilepsie (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). Boppard, H. Boldt 1973
8) Janz D, Penin H, Scheidemann KF, Thorbecke R, Hrsg. Epilepsie-Kuratorium. Epilepsie-Bericht ’85. Köln, Rheinland-Verlag 1985