Obituary: Elisa Izaurralde

EMBL alumna Elisa Izaurralde.
EMBL alumna Elisa Izaurralde. PHOTO: Carolin Thiersch

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Elisa Izaurralde, EMBL alumna, has passed away

It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of EMBL alumna Elisa Izaurralde. She died on April 30, at the age of 58, after a battle with cancer. Elisa worked in the EMBL Gene Expression Unit (now Genome Biology Unit) for a total of 13 years between 1990 and 2006. She flourished as a postdoctoral research fellow, as a group leader then later as a senior scientist and acting Head of Unit. She was always ready to help her colleagues, who greatly benefitted from the drive and commitment she brought to her scientific work. As a group leader, she was a very active mentor both of fellows in her lab and of her younger group leader colleagues.

Elisa completed her doctoral training and first postdoctoral position in Switzerland, at the University of Geneva, where she became an expert in chromatin organisation and worked on HIV 1 proteins. In 1990, Elisa joined EMBL as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of Iain Mattaj, EMBL’s current Director General. Here, she researched mechanisms of RNA export and other forms of transport between the nucleus and cytoplasm. After moving to the University of Geneva for three years, Elisa returned to EMBL as a group leader in 1999. She maintained her enthusiasm for research on mRNA biology and went on to become Senior Scientist and acting Head of Unit. In 2005, Elisa moved to the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, as Scientific Director. Here, she continued to study various aspects of RNA metabolism and RNA-based regulation.

Elisa was always ready to help her colleagues, who greatly benefitted from the drive and commitment she brought to her scientific work

Elisa’s work was recognised through several prestigious awards and honours, most prominently the Leibniz Prize and the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine. She was an elected member of EMBO, of the German Science Academy (Leopoldina) and a member of the Board of Directors of the RNA Society. She was also a member of numerous advisory boards and panels, and served on a large number of editorial boards for prestigious journals.

Elisa’s life was inextricably linked with scientific endeavour. She was either doing an experiment or thinking of the next one. It was her need for answers which drove her commitment and devotion to research. With this came her readiness to help colleagues in the lab, both experimentally and conceptually. In the last few years of her life, Elisa gained a more long-term perspective. This was shaped by the understanding that every achievement is built into a larger picture. Time spent away from the lab became important in its own right and Elisa enriched her life with other activities, such as enjoying coffee with friends and hiking in the Italian Alps. Her sharp mind and smiling face are fondly remembered by her EMBL colleagues and friends.

By Iain Mattaj and Matthias Wilm

EMBL is putting together a condolence book of tributes to Elisa’s life from the EMBL community. If you would like to add a message, memory or story to this book, please contact the Alumni Relations team (alumni@embl.org).