In memoriam

Thomas C. Alber

Thomas C. AlberThomas C. Alber, 60, a structural biologist and professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, died March 28 after five-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“He was known for his ability to span a wide range of scientific disciplines, to see connections between disparate fields and to extract fundamental insights from complex data sets,” Susan Marqusee, a longtime friend and colleague at Berkeley, said in a statement. “In addition to his impact on science, he’ll be remembered for his scientific integrity, collegial spirit, mentorship and intellectual enjoyment of collaborations.”
Born in Japan, Alber was raised in Southern California and earned his B.S. in chemistry from UC Santa Cruz. His first scientific manuscript was published in the journal Nature, and he then earned his Ph.D. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981.
Alber went on to develop innovative computational methods to uncover alternative protein structures with potential biological function from existing X-ray data. He discovered a sophisticated system of protein communication within Mycobacterium tuberculosis and found potential targets against both tuberculosis and HIV. In 2013, The Protein Society honored Alber with its Christian B. Anfinsen Award in recognition of “his foundational studies yielding an understanding of the structure/function relationship of proteins.”
Alber, the founding director of the Henry Wheeler Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases, was a faculty affiliate in the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences and a member of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory division of physical biosciences.
UC Berkeley has established a memorial fund in Alber’s memory. It will sponsor an annual lecture on infectious disease. Find out more at

Carlos Barbas III

Carlos Barbas IIICarlos Barbas III, an organic and biological chemist at The Scripps Research Institute, died from a rare form of medullary thyroid cancer on June 24. Barbas was the Janet and Keith Kellogg II chair professor and a member of The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI in San Diego.
Barbas was born Nov. 5, 1964, in St. Petersburg, Fla. He received a B.S. in chemistry at Eckerd College in Florida and earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Texas A&M University in 1989. He then did postdoctoral work, first at Pennsylvania State University with Steven Benkovic and later at Scripps with Richard Lerner.
He joined TSRI in 1991 and combined molecular biology, chemistry and medicine to study asymmetric catalysis, zinc finger technology, synthetic antibodies and proteinlike DNA enzymes. He developed the first human antibody phage libraries and synthetic antibodies. His research has contributed to the development of numerous potential drugs and vaccines.
Barbas received many awards in recognition of his contributions. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Academy of Microbiology. He also was the founder of CovX Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Pfizer) and Zyngeni and a co-founder of Prolifaron (acquired by Alexion).

Herbert C. Friedmann

Herbert C. FriedmannHerbert C. Friedmann, a pioneer in bacterial enzymes research, devoted and enthusiastic educator to budding scientists, and passionate storyteller on the subjects of biology, history and literature, died Jan. 13. He was 86.
Along with having served the University of Chicago for almost 50 years with excellent teaching and research, Friedmann was known for his book “Enzymes,” an article he co-wrote on the life of Theodor Escherich (the researcher after whom E. coli was named), and a short paper titled “Fifty-six laws of good teaching,” a guide for any instructor. One of his laws was “Never expect your students to learn or understand anything that you cannot or did not learn or understand yourself.”
Friedmann was born June 19, 1927, to a Jewish family in Mannheim, Germany. His mother was a violinist and his father a physician. At age 11, his childhood took an unfortunate turn when his father was arrested for being Jewish and the family residence was ravaged by members and sympathizers of the Nazi party. However, after agreeing to give up their property, the family was permitted to immigrate to Madras (now Chennai, India) in 1939.
Friedmann grew up in India and completed high school in 1943. In 1947, he earned his B.S. in chemistry at the University of Madras and stayed to continue his research on enzymes in the university’s biochemistry labs while also earning his M.S.
In 1954, Friedmann won acceptance and a scholarship to a Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago. He conducted his thesis research with Birgit Vennesland and completed his Ph.D. in 1958. For the next year, he worked as a research associate at the university and subsequently moved to Baltimore to complete a two-year fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University, where he met his future wife, Joan Bowerman.
In 1960, Friedmann returned to Chicago as an assistant professor in physiology and began his extensive studies of vitamin B12 and its role in bacterial nucleotide synthesis. He was later promoted to associate professor. In a university statement, Donald Steiner, a former chairman of biochemistry and molecular biology at Chicago, described Friedmann as “one of the department’s best citizens.” Steiner also added, “He gave more lectures than anyone else. He introduced undergraduates to biochemistry in a way that made it special.”
For his exceptional undergraduate teaching abilities, Friedmann won in 1978 the coveted Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence. Until his retirement in 2009 at the age of 82, he continued to receive glowing reviews from students.

Erich Heftmann

Erich HeftmannErich Heftmann, a chemist well known in the chromatography world, died Jan. 18 at his home in Walnut Creek, Calif., at age 95.
Heftmann was born in 1918 in Vienna, Austria, and studied medicine there till 1938. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1939 after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. He earned a B.A. in chemistry from New York University in 1942 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Rochester in 1947. He worked at the National Institutes of Health from 1948 until 1963, when he joined the California Institute of Technology. He then worked as a research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in California from 1969 until his retirement in 1983.
Heftmann used chromatography to study the role of steroids in plant biology and was the first to show the presence of cholesterol in plants. In 1961, he developed a precursor to high-pressure liquid chromatography instruments.
During his career, Heftmann published nearly 200 articles and two books, including six editions of “Chromatography,” which has become a standard reference. He was symposium editor of the Journal of Chromatography from 1982 to 2008, handling almost 5,000 papers.

Martin Lackmann

Martin LackmannMartin Lackmann, a leading German-Australian biochemist and associate professor at Monash University who had been spearheading the discovery of several novel drugs against cancer, died suddenly on May 22. Lackmann made major contributions to our understanding of how a family of cell-signaling receptors known as the Eph family of receptor tyrosine kinases regulates cell–cell interactions during normal development and cancer.
More recently, he was committed to exploiting this new knowledge to develop treatments for cancer patients, and this led to the development of new therapeutic antibodies directed against the EphA3 receptor. One such antibody, KB004, is in phase II trials in patients with leukemia. In 2010, his proposed research on KB004 was acknowledged as one of the 10 best research projects of the year by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.
Lackmann was born March 11, 1956, in Germany, where he grew up with an affinity for medicine. After completing his B.S. in biochemistry at University of Hamburg, he moved to Australia to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology at the University of Sydney, which he completed in 1992.
For his postdoctoral studies, Lackmann chose the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne and later the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. There, with mentorship from the then-director of the institute, Tony Burgess, Lackmann established his own laboratory in 2000 with a focus on translational cancer research. In 2003, Lackmann moved his research program to the Monash University biochemistry and molecular biology department, where he made highly significant discoveries regarding Eph receptor signaling and function and identified several molecular targets for the development of antibody-based anticancer therapeutics. Before his death, he was working on a patented antibody targeting ADAM-10, which is in the preclinical development phase.

Marian Swendseid

Marian Swendseid Marian Swendseid, a prolific and distinguished nutrition scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health, passed away on Jan. 19 at age 95 in Irvine, Calif. She had been an ASBMB member for 64 years.
Swendseid was born Aug. 2, 1918, in Petersburg, N.D. She earned a B.S. in chemistry and M.S. in organic chemistry at the University of North Dakota and a Ph.D. in biological chemistry at the University of Minnesota in 1941.
Swendseid pioneered research on protein, choline, folic acid and vitamin B12 metabolism, identified histidine as an essential amino acid for adults and published more than 150 manuscripts. She served as an associate editor of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A scholarship fund to support students or investigators focused in the area of nutrition and cancer prevention was established with the American Society for Nutrition Foundation in memory of Swendseid. More information is available at

Fabian Lionetti

Fabian “Doc” J. Lionetti, professor of biochemistry at Boston University Medical School, died on March 14 at age 96.
Fabian, who held a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was a distinguished researcher whose body of work contributed to advances at NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and the field of blood preservation.
Colleagues and friends recalled him as the author of numerous papers in leading scientific journals, a trusted counselor to students and a nature enthusiast.
Mariana Figuera-Losada
Sapeck Agrawal
Mariana Figuera–Losada ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University. She wrote the briefs on Alber, Barbas, Heftmann, Lionetti and Swendseid.

Sapeck Agrawal ( recently earned her Ph.D. in molecular microbiology and immunology from the Johns Hopkins University. She wrote the briefs on Friedmann and Lackmann.