Josef Maria Leonhard Issels, MD was born in Mönchengladbach, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, on November 21, 1907.

His middle names came from a family tradition of naming children after a paternal grandmother and a favorite uncle. Josef’s mother taught him to read and say bed-time prayers. In those devotions he included not only his family, but also creatures of the earth – an early sign of his passion and sensitivity for all life.

 The war years (1914-1918) were difficult times for the Issels, but the family managed to stay afloat financially.

 Josef entered the Mönchengladbach Gymnasium (primary school) at the age of six. Because he was thin and small and bullied, he worked on building up his physical strength through swimming and other sports. From the ages of 8-15, Josef spent his school holidays on a farm, tending animals, sowing and reaping crops – further fostering his interest in nature.

 During his teen years, he was tutored by a Dr. Hoven, who assisted him in Latin and French.





Josef Issels, MD,

Father of Intergrative Cancer Medicine”




In 1927, Josef entered the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg. In 1928, he moved to Bonn to continue his studies at Rhein-Universität (now University of Bonn). There he intently studied medicine and became interested in surgery. After his studies in Bonn, he traveled south to Munich to Ludwig-Maximilian University. He studied general medicine, pathology, gynecology and surgery and was required to attend teaching rounds at the university hospital. He later transferred to the University of Würzburg, where he received his medical degree in 1932. The university had a long history of liberal tradition and Dr. Issels felt at home there.

In January 1933, Dr. Issels joined the staff of the Maria Hilf Hospital in Mönchengladbach. There he furthered his expertise in surgery.

Dr. Issels first achieved international recognition in 1936 when, against the captain’s orders, he performed an emergency abdominal surgery in the poorly equipped operating room of an ocean liner under sail in rough seas. His patient, an Englishwoman, recovered, and newspaper headlines told of his heroism. 


During the early war years, Dr. Issels often thought of leaving Germany for Zürich, Switzerland. By July 1939, however, it was too late. Exit visas from Germany were unobtainable. Dr. Issels continued to treat Jewish patients in the face of mounting hostility. His single-minded attitude later led him into conflict with the Nazi party when he petitioned to resign in opposition to Nazi insistence that he stop treating Jews. Because he continued to treat his Jewish patients, as punishment he was sent as a doctor to the Russian front.

While on leave, Josef married Irmengard Linder on May 15, 1941 in Stuttgart. Back on the Russian front, he was captured and held as a prisoner of war until August 5, 1945.

Upon arriving home, he found his wife had given birth to a son, Peter Has, on July 18, 1945. Unfortunately, the baby died three months later of an infection. The post-war years were a very difficult time for the Issels. Dr. Issels worked incessantly: by 1948 he was working 12-hour days, six days a week. Irmengard became pregnant again and on April 25, 1948 she gave birth to their son Rolf Dieter Maria Josef. By the end of 1948, Dr. Issels had an enormous practice, but the level of commitment was hard on the family.

Dr. Issels soon became interested in new developments in immunotherapy. He continued to treat a growing number of cancer patients, often for free. This placed Irmengard and the family at a financial hardship, allowing only for the essentials of life. Dr. Issels continued to try new therapies for cancer patients and decided he needed a clinic to perform his unique treatments. They found a run-down hotel (the Ringberg Hotel) for rent on the Tegernsee at Rottach-Egern. They changed the name from “Hotel” to “Klinik” and opened in 1951.

​The Ringberg Klinik became the first hospital in Europe to offer treatment to “incurable” cancer patients who had been rejected by other doctors. Dr. Issels had been researching immunology and microbial aspects of cancer etiology since 1948 and established several research units in his hospital.

​By 1952, the clinic and Dr. Issels work in oncology became widely known. By 1956, 1,473 patients had been treated at the Ringberg Klinik. By 1957, the clinic had doubled its original capacity of 32 beds. Eight staff cared for the patients.

 Josef and Irmengard divorced in November 1956. They remained long-time friends.

 Thereafter, Dr. Issels buried himself in work.

His “Ganzheitstherapie” (whole-body therapy) included fever therapy, anticancer vaccines, nutritional approaches, organ and cellular detoxification, removing sites of focal infection such as non-vital (dead) teeth and infected tonsils, homeopathic remedies and careful attention to the patient’s psychoemotional condition. Dr. Issels developed autologous cancer vaccines prepared from the patient’s own blood, thus being non-toxic and compatible with the patient’s immune system.

During the hospital’s early years, Dr. Issels and co-researchers developed cancer vaccines. These unique cancer vaccines were shown to intensify immune system response and enhance the body’s ability to fight cancer and are still used today in current Issels cancer treatment regimes.

​From 1958 until 1973, Professor Franz Gerlach of the University of Vienna, researcher at the Pasture Institute, and Fellow of the Academy of Medicine on Paris, was director of research of the microbiological department of the Issels Hospital. They conducted groundbreaking research on mycoplasma in cancer and chronic degenerative diseases.

By 1959, Dr. Issels had treated approximately 2,500 men, women and children who had been deemed beyond further treatment. The majority had gained worthwhile extensions to their lives, amounting to several years in many cases.

Dr. Issels married Ilse Marie Klos in November 1959. She was 30 years old. Ilse became fundamental to Dr. Issels’ work and success.








By 1965, a poll by the Demographic Institute of Allensbach found that Dr. Issels was known by more Germans than the then-current Chancellor of the Federal Republic.

Dr. Issels was the subject of a 1970 British Broadcasting Corporation documentary entitled “Go and Climb a Mountain”. The BBC filmed German Army helicopters delivering terminally ill cancer patients for treatment by Dr. Issels with his German Federal Government recognized protocols. BBC researchers concluded that the results of two independent epidemiological chart reviews had confirmed the cure of many cases of advanced cancer.

​One of those epidemiologists was Professor John Anderson, MD, Chairman of the Department of Medicine, King’s College Hospital Medical School, University of London. In 1969, Anderson wrote,

​He has contributed to our understanding of the whole-person approach to cancer therapy and the problems involved in controlling a serious whole-body disease. His patients have come from many countries and his extensive records have enabled him to produce data about his complete and long-term remissions in seriously ill cancer patients who had been rejected by other doctors.

​Dr. Issels treated patients in Germany for more than 40 years, overcoming criticism to become a much sought-after speaker at international medical conferences, universities (including Oxford and McGill) and prestigious institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

 Dr. Issels soon became a controversial figure; powerful opponents from conventional oncology had him briefly incarcerated by falsely accusing him of fraud and manslaughter. The trial, dubbed “the cancer trial of the century” by the German media, stretched from 1960 to 1964, only to conclude in complete acquittal and dismissal of all counts.

​By 1970, the hospital grew from 85 to 120 patient beds, and expanded its extensive research facilities, including the microbiological, immunological, dental and hyperthermia units. Dr. Issels became regarded as the “Father of Integrative Cancer Medicine” because of his bold incorporation of alternative and complementary cancer therapies into standard management decades before their current popularity.









In 1981, Dr. Issels was appointed to the German Federal Government’s Cancer Commission, a post he held for nearly seven years. In 1996, at the age of 89, he and his wife moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California. He then became co-principal investigator and senior medical consultant to the Issels/CHIPSA/GRO Collaboration.

Dr. Issels continued to lecture extensively and to train physicians in the interdisciplinary management he developed – maintaining a schedule that would have been difficult for a younger man. Together with his wife, Ilse Marie, he established the Issels Foundation to further his medical accomplishments through education and research.

Up until his unexpected illness, he continued his writing and public speaking, and spent two days every week teaching physicians at the Centro Hospitalario Internacional Pacifico, SA (CHIPSA) in Tijuana, Mexico.

Dr. Josef Maria Issels died of influenza-caused pneumonia at the age of 90 on February 11, 1998. He was survived by his widow, Ilse Marie, sons Rolf, Hellmut, and Christian, daughter Ruthild, and six grandchildren.

Dr. Issels cured not just any cancer, but advanced, recurrent cancer that did not respond to conventional oncology treatments. He used biological regulatory approaches that were non-toxic and gentle and created groundbreaking protocols that are still used today.

Though he saved many lives, there were medical opponents who sought to discredit him through slander in the media and lawsuits. Consequently, he was arrested, jailed, tried and acquitted, but never gave up his humanitarian passion to help those in need.

After his death in 1998, Dr. Josef Issels’ legacy has been continued with the same integrity and dedication by his wife and collaborator for 40 years, Ilse Marie Issels, and their sons, Dr. Christian N. Issels and Hellmut J. Issels. They have since carried on his groundbreaking work with remarkable results.







Click here for more information on Issels Therapy.

The following additional information on Issels Therapy was written by Ilse Marie Issels, devoted wife of Dr. Issels and one of Dr. Issels’ closest collaborators. She is the President of Issels Foundation, Inc.

BRMI is a non-commercial website and does not specifically endorse any products or services mentioned in this biography (or on this site generally).

Dr. Issels developed a comprehensive logistic treatment system which he first published in 1953 and administered to approximately 15,000 cancer patients in the hospital and clinic he founded in 1951 at Lake Tegernsee near Munich, Germany.

 In 1970 the hospital was enlarged from 80 to 120 beds with extensive research facilities including a dental ward (for the diagnosis and treatment of focal infection), immunological and microbiological departments where various vaccines were developed. Programs included research on pleomorphism (Enderlein), microbes in oncogenesis, for example mycoplasma (Gerlach), autologous vaccines (Issels), mixed bacterial vaccines (Coley), darkfield microscopy, hyperthermia etc. The facility provided state-of-the-art medical care in a resort setting.

 It was the first hospital of its kind, designed for the immunobiological treatment of cancer patients who had exhausted conventional treatments. Over 90% of all patients were suffering from progressive metastatic cancer, and too often in the terminal stage. The treatment of these patients posed new problems of therapy which had not been considered in classic cancer therapy, that is the treatment of the tumor alone.

 Dr. Issels summarized his conclusions from this experience in his holistic concept of the development of chronic degenerative disease and malignancy. It serves as the fundament for his comprehensive treatment strategy which attends to both the disease symptoms and the causes and preconditions for the development of these symptoms.

 Dr. Issels differentiated between two causal complexes in the development of cancer, namely:

  • the factors which induce the transformation of a normal cell into a cancer cell, and

  • those factors which impair the immune and regulatory systems to an extent that they cannot prevent cancer cells from developing into a tumor

 According to Buttersack, Eppinger, Schade and others the defense potential is a multi-layered structure of numerous, very different functional systems embracing virtually the whole body. During the decades of treating advanced cancer, Dr. Issels observed the synergistic effect of treatment modalities that comprise all the defense zones.

Luckey and Schmid Differentiate between Four Successive Defense Zones:

The adaptive “extracorporeal defense zone”. It consists of the physiological obligatory microflora on all epithelial surfaces with its autonomous defense function. It is responsible for the development of the “basic immunity of the organism” (Gordon, Luckey and Miyakawa). The functional integrity of the other defense zones can only be guaranteed by a healthy eubiotic microflora.

The constitutive “epithelial defense zone”. It consists of all epithelial surfaces and performs defense, filtration, excretion and absorption (Carbonara, Crabbe, Heremans, Mitchison). The excretory function of this zone is of special importance for the elimination of metabolic and oncolytic toxins. A back flow of the waste products leads to a blockade of this system with all the consequences for the other zones, and thus to an impairment of the defense potential.

The constitutive “lympho-reticular defense zone”. It consists of the “lympho-epithelial system” with the thymus, the Waldeyer’s tonsillar ring, the Peyer’s patches, the “lympho-retothelial system” such as the white pulp of the spleen, the lymphatic centers, the white bone marrow and the storage endothelia. The importance of this zone has been shown by the research work of Alexander, Good, Hellstrom, Klein, Nossal, Old, and others.

The constitutive “reticulo-histiocytary defense zone” . It is the pluripotent mesenchyme which embraces almost half of the body weight. It is also called the regulatory ground system (Pischinger) with its various functions such as

the transit function that intervenes between nerves, organ cells, blood, lymphatic and intestinal cells

the homeostatic function

the defense, detoxification and storage functions

These four defense zones are successive, are closely interrelated and – what is often neglected – they are under neuro-hormonal control. They do not only fulfill defense but also other vital functions.

The blockage of only one function of one of these zones, for example of the excretion belonging to the second zone, or even the blockage of the control system such as the diencephalon or the autonomous nervous system on its own, may contribute indirectly to a lowering of the defense potential.

The activities of the cybernetic synergism of the four defense zones are defined by some authors as the “big resistance”. The resistance is a very complex mechanism which is not alone to be seen in the much-discussed importance of the T-and B-lymphocytes. It is an accomplishment of the entire organism and therefore holistic.

To achieve optimal results treatment should cover all the defense zones including the control system whose importance has been shown by the research findings of psychoneuro-immunology.

The Issels Treatment comprises the person as a whole – body and mind. It is based on the concept of oncogenesis (Issels 1953) as outlined under table 2:


Pre-and post-natal endogenous and exogenous factors (I) can lead by mutagenic, toxic, sensitizing and neural effects via the transit mesenchyme to secondary damage (Roessle) (II) to organs and organ systems as well as to functional disturbances of the neural, hormonal, excretory and defense systems.

Effects on the detoxifying and excretory systems deteriorate the endogenous environment or “milieu” and can lead to complex metabolic disturbances which are common to all chronic degenerative diseases and vary according to constitution and disposition.

Further constant influence of the causal factors and the persistence of secondary damages can impair the defense, repair and regulatory mechanisms to an extent that produces an imbalanced condition which, in the case of a genetic predisposition, can gradually develop into a “tumor-milieu”(III). This constitutes a specific endogenous environment which provides the ideal medium for cancer cells, and microorganisms found in cancer, to thrive. From such pre-cancerous condition (III), when defense potency is lowered further, a malignant tumor may develop at the site of least resistance.

With the manifestation of the malignant tumor (IV) and its symptoms (V) the cancer disease enters the recognizable phase and conventional treatment starts with the weapons directed against the tumor and the cancer cells. However, the latent pathological processes preceding and producing the manifestation of the tumor, remain chronically active, even after elimination of the tumor; hence the high rate of recurrence after standard cancer treatment.

Standard cancer treatment is based on the “localistic” concept that views the malignant tumor as the beginning of a disease which progressively spreads throughout the body. This interpretation of cancer makes all measures of treatment concentrated on the tumor, seem causal and exhaustive. They are exhaustive in those cases in which the immune system is capable to recuperate after alleviation from the tumor load (Rubin).

The holistic concept views cancer as a systemic disease from the onset and the tumor as its late stage symptom. This concept, therefore, calls for a holistic strategy in order to achieve optimal treatment results.


The Issels



to Cancer

The basic treatment is modified to suit each individual patient’s needs. It includes:

1. Elimination of all sizable exogenous and endogenous causal factors that may lead to an impairment of the immune functions and may contribute to a transformation of symbiotic microorganisms into pathogens:

a) Malnutrition to be replaced by a diet designed to meet the special needs of the individual cancer patient (Budwig, Gerson, Hildenbrand), with supplementation of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, trace elements, enzymes;

b) Abnormal bacterial intestinal flora to be normalized by diet and long-term administration of coli cultures (Nissle) and probiotic cultures;

c) Head foci of infection such as dental, alveolar and tonsillar foci to be removed by surgical intervention (Issels, Pischinger);

d) Fields of neural disturbance to be neutralized by neural therapy (Huneke). Neural therapy and acupuncture are also administered in conjunction with conventional pain therapy;

e) Hereditary allergies and toxicosis to be treated by administration of specific colloids (Issels, Spengler);

f) Environmental and occupational factors and addictions to be rectified by change of life style;

g) Psychic stress to be relieved by psychological guidance, in single and group therapy, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, meditation, visualization;

h) Physical therapy, hydrotherapy, breathing techniques, massage, lymph drainage etc.

2. Treatment of secondary damage and metabolic disturbance to restore normal function of organs by:

a) Activation of cellular respiration by oxygen-ozone therapy in various forms, ultraviolet blood irradiation;

b) Regeneration of organs and compensation of losses by administration of organ extracts or organ hydrolysates, (e.g. liver extract, thymus peptides);

c) Therapy to improve detoxification, i.e. elimination of toxins resulting from oncolysis, and of metabolic residues by activation of liver and kidney function assisted by herbal extracts and high fluid intake, colon hydrotherapy, enemas;

d) Enzyme therapy with proteolytic enzymes to eliminate immune suppressive factors such as immune complexes;

e) Homeopathy, Isopathy.

3. Stimulation of immune response by:

a) Hyperpyrexia, i.e. the injection of bacterial lypopolysaccharides, e.g. an autolysate of streptococci and bacterium prodigiosum (Coley), to raise body temperature up to 104 F. Hyperpyrexia fights latent infections, loosens regulative blockades, improves detoxification, damages cancer cells, temporarily raises the white blood count up to 30 – 40,000 and increases the release of interferon and interleukin. Over the past 40 years more than 100,000 applications were given in the Issels Hospital and Clinic in Germany without any adverse side effects.

4. Biological Response Modifiers, Autologous Vaccines.

The vaccines were developed in the Microbiological Department of the Issels hospital. From 1958 until 1973 Dr. Franz Gerlach was its director of research. He was a Professor of the University of Vienna, a researcher of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, well published in peer-reviewed medical journals, and internationally renowned for his research on mycoplasma and cancer. In the Issels hospital, thousands of mice served for a variety of studies, all of which confirmed that mycoplasma species can be causative or co-factors in oncogenesis.

To quote Gerlach: “Mycoplasmas are, synergistically with other factors, essential and obligatory for oncogenesis”. For example, after cell free depot inoculation of mycoplasmas under the skin of 209 albino mice, 90.9% developed all types of malignancies, whereas of 600 control animals which were not inoculated, only 0,83% developed cancer.

Over the last hundred years, other scientists have as well associated microorganisms with oncogenesis. Recent research by reputable US scientists confirms the involvement of certain mycoplasma species in cancer (S.C.Lo et al.), the Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis (Nasralla M., Nicolson al.)

The mycoplasma vaccines developed in the Issels hospital were administered within the comprehensive treatment program.

Clinical observation showed that even in an advanced stage of malignant disease an immune reaction with complete long-term remission can be achieved. The basic therapy seems to improve the immune reactivity of the body and the efficacy of applied tumor antigens. This may explain why tests in some cancer centers where only tumor antigens were given without the basic treatment, did not achieve the same results and led to such statements as “tumors of a certain size cannot be influenced immunologically”.

The importance of the basic therapy can be seen in the fact that with its use immune paralysis simulated by intoxication could be eliminated within a few days and a sufficient immune response was achieved. In the Issels Hospital and Clinic it was repeatedly observed that by the elimination of foci, above all infected devitalized teeth and chronically infected tonsils, or with an active fever therapy, a blockade of the neuro-hormonal systems was broken.

Based on the holistic concept, the Issels Treatment has two main lines of approach to cancer which complement each other:

A. Treatment aiming at the removal or reduction of the tumor:

​1.) Surgery

2.) Radiation

3.) Chemotherapy

4.) Hormone Therapy

5.) Hyperthermia and Other Non-Toxic Modalities

6.) Specific Immunotherapy.

B. Non-specific immunobiological basic treatment aimed at the restoration of the impaired defense, repair and regulatory functions of the tumor host.


The Basic




Especially during the first years of the development of the Issels Treatment, it became evident: specific immunotherapy was more effective when causal factors could be eliminated systematically and detoxification mechanisms and herewith the endogenous environment, the “milieu”, could be normalized.


​The normalization of the detoxification processes is an essential part of basic therapy. This is generally ignored in research and practice. Despite all efforts, even today many patients are lost who respond well to the tumor antigens, but who are not able to excrete the products of tumor lysis. Without sufficient detoxification neither immunotherapy nor chemotherapy will achieve long term results.


​In patients with a rapidly growing tumor who cannot expect immediate help from long term immunotherapy, the latter is combined with chemotherapy according to the morphology of the tumor. Thus the progression of the tumor growth can be stopped and the patient gains time to respond to immunotherapy.


​In qualified cases, cautious short-term administration of chemotherapy avoids the severe immune suppression associated with prolonged use of these drugs (Frei). Experience of 40 years has shown that chemotherapy combined with basic therapy, has less toxic side effects, and in special cases, when given in lower than the standard doses, it has the same cytotoxic effect. Thus, many patients can be helped who would die, if only one of these therapies were used.


​It has also been observed that through comprehensive immunobiological treatment alone or in combination with chemotherapy, a variety of inoperable tumors can be rendered operable. Blocked ureters or gall bladders can be freed, making it possible to continue treatment of patients who would otherwise be lost.

A decisive improvement of cure rates can be achieved through comprehensive immunotherapy as follow-up treatment shortly after standard treatment, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The restoration of the immune functions can reduce the incidence of recurrence from about 50% (World Statistics) to 13% by combined conventional treatments and comprehensive immunotherapy.

​Josef M. Issels, M.D. reported in “Immunotherapy in Progressive Metastatic Cancer, A Fifteen Year Survival Follow-up” 1970, Clinical Trials Journal , 7(3): 357-366, London, a peer reviewed paper, that of 370 patients with various types of cancer who were given immunological treatment shortly after surgery or radiation therapy, 322 (87%) were alive and well after five years without recurrence or detectable metastases.

An independent statistical study by A.G. Audier, M.D., University of Leiden, Holland, “Immunotherapie Metastasierender Malignome”, 1959, Die Medizinische 40: 1860-64, Stuttgart, a peer reviewed paper, reported a 16.6% cure rate of histologically verified metastatic melanomas by the Issels comprehensive immunotherapy. The study comprised 252 patients with various types of cancer after all conventional methods were exhausted (Worldwide cure rate is 2%).

John Anderson, M.D., Teaching Professor at King’s College Hospital, London, reported 17% cures of histologically verified metastatic melanomas by the Issels comprehensive immunotherapy. The independent randomized study comprised 570 patients with various types of cancer after all conventional methods were exhausted (General Practitioner, 1971: 15-16, London).

The Issels Treatment opens up the following therapeutic possibilities:

Treatment of cancer of all types and stages offering a considerable chance of recovery even for patients in advanced stages who have exhausted all standard treatments.

Follow-up treatment to reduce the risk of recurrence after standard cancer therapies through restoration of the patient’s defense and repair functions.

Non-toxic preventive treatment for patients at risk (genetic predisposition coupled with environmental challenges), and those with precancerous lesions.

Preparatory treatment prior to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to reduce complications and in qualified cases, to render inoperable tumors operable.

Treatment of chronic degenerative diseases which are untreatable by standard methods.

A system of monitoring regulatory functions on a day by day basis is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Surgery, Chemotherapy or Radiation May Still be Recommended

It is not the purpose of immunotherapy to replace surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These “localized” treatments have their place within the integrative approach to cancer. On their own, however, they cannot be expected to be the answer to a chronic systemic disorder, although they have given their utmost in removing its symptom, the tumor.

Therefore, interdisciplinary collaboration should no longer be subject to the primacy of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy under the exclusion of immunotherapy.

It is the integrative approach to cancer based on the holistic concept that will bring physicians and scientists closer to their goal: A Cure for Cancer.



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