Sign in to view more
Sign in to view more
Hans A. Kretzschmar, Chair of Neuropathology and Director of the Center for Neuropathology and Prion Diseases at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, passed away on January 12, 2014, after being diagnosed with cancer several months ago. Hans Kretzschmar was born on January 3, 1953, in Munich, Germany, where he also studied medicine at the Ludwig-Maximilians University (LMU) Munich. After three years as resident in general pathology in Munich, he started his training in neuropathology in 1983 at the Department of Neuropathology, University of California, San Francisco, USA, under the direction of Dr. Stephen J. DeArmond. Through the close proximity to the lab of the later Nobel laureate Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner, Hans got involved into basic research projects on prion diseases that among others resulted in deciphering the genetic sequence of the human prion protein gene. At that time his scientific interest and enthusiasm for prions and prion diseases have been sparked and it remained through his full career. After another postdoc from 1986 to 1987 in the lab of Dr. Charles Weissmann at the Institute of Molecular Biology, University of Zurich, Switzerland, he completed his neuropathology training at the Institute of Neuropathology at the LMU Munich and started his own research group. In 1992, he was appointed Professor of Neuropathology at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, Germany, where he directed the Institute of Neuropathology for eight years and established himself as internationally recognized expert on prion diseases. He was recruited back to the LMU Munich as Chair of Neuropathology in 2000. The timing for this move could not have been better as it overlapped with the peak of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis in Europe with the detection of the first cows with BSE in Germany and patients with new variant CJD outside the United Kingdom. Besides his excellent reputation as scientist, now also his political contacts paid off. In a diplomatic and smart way he managed to convince the representatives of the State of Bavaria and the LMU Munich that his research projects needed more space and in 2004 the “Center for Neuropathology and Prion Research”, one of the largest and best-equipped multifunctional facilities in Europe for clinical neuropathology and brain research, was opened and directed by him. Hans had every reason to be proud of this major achievement that allowed best working conditions for him and his team, and one can be certain that he quite enjoyed the many envious glances he gained from visitors. Hans Kretzschmar’s contributions to the field of neuropathology and neurosciences are enormous. He was author of more than 550 articles, reviews and book chapters with an h-index of 80 and so far more than 23,000 citations of his work. He was member of the editorial boards of Acta Neuropathologica, Brain Pathology and Neurogenetics, elected member of the review board “Neurosciences” of the German Research Foundation (2004–2007) and representative of Germany for the European Confederation of Neuropathological Societies (EURO-CNS) and the International Society of Neuropathology since 2004. His major scientific interest was on elucidating the mechanisms underlying prion diseases and the normal function of the prion protein with research programs ranging from molecular neuropathology, genetics, biochemistry, cell and animal models to the development of sensitive detection methods for prions. Particularly worth mentioning from the many substantial achievements he made are: the identification and characterization of the copper binding properties of the prion protein and the role of microglia in prion diseases with landmark papers published in Nature; the establishment of sensitive detection methods that allowed the detection of prion molecules in the cerebrospinal fluid from CJD patients for the first time; the improvement of methods allowing the generation of highly infectious prions in a cell free manner; and the characterization and classification of morphological and molecular phenotypes of CJD together with Dr. Piero Parchi that became textbook knowledge and are used as diagnostic standards for the neuropathological diagnosis of CJD worldwide. Hans built up and led the CJD Surveillance Unit in Germany. During the BSE crisis, he served as consultant in committees of the public health services at national and international levels for developing guidelines and recommendations for the prevention of prion diseases and was a highly sought after guest in talk shows on TV. However, focusing on Hans’ achievements in understanding prion diseases gives only an incomplete impression of his scientific activities. Because of their similarities with other neurodegenerative diseases, he developed an increasing interest in the diagnostics and research of other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia. In that context, the establishment of high-quality brain banking and promotion of human postmortem tissue as fundamental resource for research in neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases were of particular importance to him. With tremendous enthusiasm and devotion he set up and coordinated a network of brain banks in Germany (Brain-Net) and a European-wide network of 20 brain banks (BrainNet Europe) as “Network of Excellence” funded by the European Commission. This resulted in many papers with recommendations for the structure and organization of brain banks, guidelines and gold standards for tissue sampling and quality control in brain banking, and modified criteria for the neuropathological diagnostics of common neurodegenerative diseases. The enormous scientific success of the BrainNet Europe was not only driven by the many experts within the consortium but also by Hans’ capability to create a structure and an atmosphere within the network where all individual participants indeed enjoyed to actively cooperate, including the willingness to spend many hours at weekends together around the multi-headed microscope to harmonize diagnostics and to discuss rare or unusual cases. Perhaps the statement from a report on a BrainNet Europe workshop, “Yes. We like neuropathology and neuropathology makes a difference”, might illustrate best what Hans has exemplified in his life and the team spirit within BrainNet Europe. Hans Kretzschmar received several prestigious awards and honors for his excellent scientific work and achievements, including the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine in 1999, a Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) in 2004 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Athens in 2008. Those who had the privilege to work with Hans and to know him personally appreciated him as a highly intelligent, sharp-minded, straightforward and unpretentious person with a fine sense of humor. Due to his analytic thinking and ability to grasp also complex issues instantly it was always fun to discuss new ideas or ongoing projects with him and his advice was greatly respected. The relationship to his employees was characterized by mutual respect, trust, loyalty and empathy. In his spare time, Hans loved sailing, hiking and hunting. Moreover, he was also very passionate about ancient languages since his childhood and he never got tired trying to educate everybody around him in this respect. During work, he particularly liked to do that during the daily diagnostic session at the microscope and as young residents we were sometimes more afraid being asked for the correct declension of a Latin word than for the correct diagnosis of the specimen we were looking at. However, I have to admit, his success rate in terms of improving our Latin was significantly less than his success in teaching us neuropathology. Personally, Hans played a major and important role in my whole academic career; first as my thesis supervisor, then as teacher and mentor and finally as highly respected collaborator and colleague. My gratitude for everything he taught me and for all his support is immeasurable. I particularly value the right balance he found in providing supervision and giving me freedom and flexibility very early in my career to develop my own research projects and become independent. Of course, in our more than 20 years of working relationship there were also some disagreements, and Hans was a person one could also argue every now and then, but just as often the discrepancies could be resolved very quickly. Besides myself, neuropathologists trained by him include Dr. Jochen Herms (Professor for Translational Brain Research, DZNE Munich), Dr. Armin Giese (Professor of Neuropathology, LMU Munich) and Dr. Walter Schulz-Schaeffer (Consultant Neuropathologist, University of Göttingen). Hans will be dearly missed and his memory will be cherished by all who had the privilege of knowing him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.