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June 18, 2019

Obituary for Prof. Heinrich Reichert (1949 – 2019)

The Biozentrum is mourning the death of Heinrich Reichert, Professor emeritus of Neurobiology at the University of Basel.

Prof. em. Heinrich Reichert.

With our deepest regret we announce the passing of Prof. Heinrich Reichert. Our colleague, friend and Professor emeritus of Neurobiology passed away on Thursday, 13 June 2019 after a severe illness, about two months before his 70th birthday. With his death the Biozentrum has lost an outstanding scientist, a dedicated mentor and an extraordinary individual. Heinrich Reichert will remain an inspiration to his colleagues and we will remember him as an encouraging, enthusiastic and charismatic scientist.

In the early 1970’s, Heinrich Reichert studied physics, chemistry and biology at the University of Karlsruhe supported by the German National Academic Foundation. Subsequently, he continued research at the Institute of Genetics at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau as a scholarship-holder of the Academic Foundation for three years and then moved as a postdoctoral fellow to the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. In 1982, he was appointed to Assistant Professor at the Zoological Institute at the University of Basel and, after five years at the University of Geneva, he returned to the Zoological Institute in Basel to become Associate Professor. In 2006, he was promoted to Full Professor of Neurobiology and Molecular Zoology and came to the Biozentrum. In addition to his research, Reichert was also dedicated to promoting a cross-border exchange in science. He was a co-founder and Vice President of “Neurex” – a European network of excellence in Neurosciences.

With his research, he made a significant contribution to the elucidation of how brain tumors can develop from neural stem cells. These cells possess the remarkable ability to develop into an enormous number of neurons through several maturation steps. That the maturation process from neural stem cells to nerve cells follows a defined molecular program was a significant discovery made by Heinrich Reichert. Furthermore, he identified important genes controlling this program and could show that mutations have fatal consequences. They can lead to uncontrolled stem cell division, or respectively, that mature progenitor cells reverting back into stem cells. These so-called cancer stem cells are considered to be the source of brain tumors. The development of new methods to purify neural stem cells in large quantities and to detect gene mutations provided the basis for these discoveries. His findings are a milestone on the way to innovative strategies to prevent brain tumors or reverse them.

Heinrich Reichert’s retirement in 2015 did not deter him from working. He lived the most of half a year in India supervising PhD students, held lectures in Cambodia and taught marine biology courses in France. In one of the last interviews, Heinrich Reichert revealed that his heart was always beating for science: “When it comes to science, I am a hedonist because it gives me great pleasure.”

Contact: Communications, Katrin Bühler