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In memoriam professor Mathieu Noteborn

On the 5th of April 2019 our dear colleague and friend Professor Dr Mathieu Noteborn has passed away. In January of this year he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy, and despite the invasive nature of this therapy things were looking up. True to his optimistic nature he had even planned to visit the lab and his colleagues, to help tie up the successful evaluation of his educational programs. It was not to be. On Friday morning Mathieu was taken ill and passed away shortly thereafter. He was 64 years old. His wife Ellie, his son Willem and his daughter Rosanne are devastated by their loss.

Mathieu was born on the 19th of December 1954, in Vaals, The Netherlands. After reading Biology at the University of Groningen he pursued his PhD at the same institute under the supervision of Professor Max Gruber. He obtained his doctorate in 1985 with the Thesis entitled ‘RNA’s transcribed from yolk proteins’. His PhD work was noted by the renowned Professor Charles Weissman, who invited him to join his laboratory for postdoctoral work. Mathieu accepted his offer and spent the next two years at the prestigious University of Zurich. While short, this period proved transformative for his further career as an independent researcher and teacher, which he continued in Leiden.

From 1987 to 1992 Mathieu, together with Professor Lex van der Eb (LUMC) studied replication of Chicken Anaemia Virus. It was during this period that Mathieu discovered a small viral protein of unknown biological function that, however, proved capable of killing tumour cells without touching healthy cells. The discovery of this protein, that Mathieu named ‘Apoptin’, guided his research as Lecturer within the Molecular Cell Biology division (LUMC, 1992-1996) and led to the spin out of the company Leadd BV. From 1996 to 2003 as CSO of Leadd BV Mathieu dedicated himself to unravelling the mechanism of action of this remarkable viral protein and turn it into a cancer therapy. Time will tell whether Mathieu’s discovery will reach the clinic.

In 2003 Mathieu felt the time right to return to academia. He stayed true to his passion for Molecular Cell Biology and shifted his attention to passing this knowledge to future generations. In 2003 he accepted a position as Lecturer at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry (LIC, Department of Biophysical Structural Biology) under the tutelage of Professor Jan-Pieter Abrahams. Shortly thereafter Mathieu was installed as Professor in Biological chemistry. He held this Chair until his death this year. Coinciding with this appointment as Professor, a position he took great pride in, he took charge of the nascent bachelor's degree course Life Science & Technology (LST). This decision proved the starting point of a shining career as a gifted teacher and manager.

Like no one else Mathieu combined managerial aspects of the bachelor's programme (and from 2009 onwards also the master's programme LST, of which he became the Director of Education) with a high volume of excellent teaching. He taught from the heart, and never placed himself above the students or teachers. His passion and sense of humour made Mathieu much loved by students and colleagues alike, as well as by university management and support staff. He did not restrict himself to teaching molecular cell biology within the degree programmes. He was one of the founders of the ‘Traveling DNA Lab Leiden’, which over the years visited numerous secondary schools in the Netherlands where the beauty of molecular biology was conveyed to the students. In 2012 he became director of the Junior Science Lab and set up a programme to teach elementary school children the fundamentals of chemistry (‘what are molecules, what is DNA, what is the chemistry of life’). Today, more than 3,000 of them visit the Gorlaeus Laboratories each year. Mathieu was an active member and long-standing chairman of the ‘Natuurwetenschappelijk Gezelschap Leiden’. His social engagement is also evidenced by the educational programmes in chemistry he developed for trainee teachers, the remedial teaching he set up for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the science day (2017) he organised for Syrian refugees in Leiden.

With the death of Mathieu, we have lost a much-loved and respected colleague, a mentor, and a teacher. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and students.

A book of condolence has been opened in the atrium of the Gorlaeus laboratories.

Mathieu’s remains have been transferred to the funeral parlour, Monuta van der Luit.

The memorial service will take place on Thursday the 11th of April at 13:00 in Crematorium Duin- en Bollenstreek, Achterweg-Zuid 62, Lisse. There will be opportunity to pass on condolences in the reception area of the crematorium after the service.

Correspondence to the bereaved, both to his family and colleagues, can be addressed to Herman Overkleeft (secretariaatWD@LIC.leidenuniv.nl; Einsteinweg 55, 2333 CC Leiden).

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