Obituary Rogier Hintzen

Monday May 27 2019

A translational immunologist to remember

Already during his medical training in Leiden, it was clear to Rogier Hintzen what he wanted to achieve in medical science: to understand the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS) in order to improve care and ultimately develop and implement cures of patients struck by this devastating neurological disease.  In 1987, in the renowned laboratory of Cedric Raine, a professor of Pathology, Neuroscience and Neurology, he received specific training on oligodendrocytes and their role in remyelination. After returning to The Netherlands, Rogier decided that he wanted to expand his knowledge on immunology to fully grasp the complexity of the immune-inflammatory processes that likely form the basis of MS pathogenesis. He joined our group at CLB (now Sanquin) and started working on a molecule that for years to come would become our mutual pet molecule: CD27. In series of well-thought experiments and engaging in collaborations with many people in and outside the lab, within The Netherlands and abroad, Rogier succeeded to uncover multiple aspects of T cell immunity ranging from fundamental knowledge to the design of ELISA systems to assess T cell activation in patients. The discovery of the CD27 ligand CD70, via a very smartly invented immunological assay, was surely his major achievement. Although Rogier and his team were scoped by Immunex Inc, a company with a huge task force on the molecular characterization of immune cell receptors, the beauty of his immunological ligand-detection assay remains(Characterization of the human CD27 ligand, a novel member of the TNF gene family. Rogier Q. Hintzen et al.,  J Immunol. 1994). After obtaining his PhD degree cum laude in 1994 and a stay at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, he did his neurology training at the LUMC. In 1999 he moved to the Erasmus Medical Center where in 2002 he initiated ErasMS, a treatment and research center for MS. Under his leadership the center flourished and became highly respected by its international peers. Rogier build the bridge between (basic) T and B cell immunology and neurology. In addition, he was one of the first to see the huge impact of genomics on unraveling MS. He became professor of Multiple Sclerosis at the Erasmus University in 2009.

What made Rogier an exceptional leader in (immunological) research? Multiple things come to mind. Obviously, he was very smart. But more notably, he used his intelligence to cross borders, to search for the remote, the unexpected and to never take things for granted (even when supervisors and students warned him against entering certain avenues). He kept a sharp eye for the important questions that originate from the wish to understand human (patho)physiology. He knew that most progress would be made by combining the expertise of different disciplines:  the translational research lines he developed at ErasMS are true examples of this. Still, most importantly Rogier knew how to lead people without instructing them.  With his charm, wisdom, sense of humor and infectious enthusiasm, he enthused students, co-workers, supervisors and collaborators to follow his direction. And we all happily did!

Rogier Hintzen died on May 15, 2019, age 56. It was inspiring and so much fun to work with him.

Rene van Lier (former PhD co-supervisor) | Susanne Lens (former student)

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