Marten Hofker (1956–2016)
On September 12th of this year, Marten Hofker passed away at his home in Groningen, The Netherlands, at the age of only 60 years. Marten was particularly known for his work on the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. With his death, we have lost a great and inspiring scientist.
Marten studied Biology at Leiden University, and he early on realized that great advances were expected from the fields of Molecular Biology and Genetics. He did his PhD research on genetic markers for inherited diseases followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Toronto at The Hospital for Sick Children. In 1989, he returned to the Department of Human Genetics in Leiden. There he became an important factor in bridging between different groups working in the fields of genetics, lipid metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases. With a great sense for innovation, he introduced knockout and transgenic technologies to study lipid metabolism in mice. Many successful models were generated under his inspiring leadership with the APOE3 (apolipoproteinE3)-Leiden mouse, carrying a dominant negative mutation in human apolipoprotein E3 that was identified in a local family with familial hyperlipidemia, being the most successful. Even though initially grant applications were received quite skeptical because it was thought that introducing a human gene into a mouse would not be feasible, the APOE3-Leiden mouse is today still one of the most widely used mouse models with a humanized lipoprotein profile. Although his key focus was on lipid metabolism and cardiovascular disease, with his enthusiasm and broad interests during this time in Leiden, he also significantly contributed to many other projects on a wide range of topics.
In 2000, he became a professor of Molecular Genetics at Maastricht University. He was specifically recruited to boost local molecular biology expertise in Maastricht and again had a strong bridging function between different disciplines. He rapidly generated a large research group working on atherosclerosis, obesity, and fatty liver disease, specifically focusing on inflammatory processes using sophisticated conditional knockout and transgenic mouse models. His group had tight links with 3 main research schools in Maastricht on cardiovascular diseases, nutrition, and oncology.
In 2007, after 7 successful years in Maastricht, Marten and his partner, geneticist Cisca Wijmenga, were both recruited by the University Medical Center Groningen. Marten was appointed as professor of Molecular Genetics and rapidly founded a strong and productive research group with a focus on morbidities associated with the metabolic syndrome, that is, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. He operated under the umbrella of the Groningen theme on Healthy Aging, and at the same time his team started the Mouse Clinic for the generation of innovative mouse models boosting local basic research. Over recent years and in close collaboration with Cisca Department of Genetics, his research also focused on the microbiome in the development of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. This was a very successful line of research that already yielded several breakthrough papers in high-ranking journals.
Throughout his career, Marten has always shown great sense for innovation and new technologies. His research operated on the forefront of scientific knowledge, and he was excellent in inspiring collaborations between disciplines. He was a great advocate of the fact that science is about collaborating and joining forces. Within the different places that Marten has worked in, he always stimulated scientific interactions. Many top researchers from around the globe were invited by him to come to Leiden, Maastricht, or Groningen to give lectures, master classes, and to promote interactions with young scientists. In Groningen, he and Cisca accommodated many of the guests at their beautiful house close to the center of town, which was therefore also referred to as Hotel Genetica. As a very successful scientist himself, he was an inspiring example for many researchers both young and old. He was visionary on a wide range of scientific topics, was very knowledgeable in many fields and also was a true inspirational mentor. He had a very easy-going way of leadership, and his office was always open for enthusiastic scientific discussions. He gave great space to young researchers in his group to develop and flourish. Under his guidance, many were successful in obtaining very prestigious personal grants, and several became professors at different universities.
Marten was a brilliant networker, and over the years he was very active in several large Dutch and European coordinated networks. Also his active contributions and lively discussions at many American Heart Association meetings, Gordon Research conferences, and Keystone meetings will never be forgotten. Particularly, for the European Lipoprotein Club, in which Marten served as a president for 5 years, his contributions have been very instrumental.
We have lost a great scientist. Marten was a wonderful person and a good friend to many of us. He was inspiring and a true passionate scientist, who will be missed by many.
- © 2016 American Heart Association, Inc.