Martin Leverkus, MD (1965–2016)

      Professor Martin Leverkus, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology and Allergology at Aachen University and Associate Editor of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, died unexpectedly on February 16, 2016, at the age of 50 years while working at home.
      Martin Leverkus finished his medical studies in 1993 after being trained at different universities such as University of Cologne (Germany), Clermont-Ferrand (France), Johannesburg (Republic of South Africa) and Greenville (USA). Martin was always highly interested in dermatology, both at the clinical and the cellular level, and he completed his specialization in 2000 after training in the Department of Dermatology at Würzburg Medical School and in the Department of Dermatology at Boston University under the supervision of Barbara A. Gilchrest. In 2002 Martin was appointed as a consultant in Dermatology at Würzburg Medical School, where his clinical interests were dermatological oncology, photodermatology, photodynamic therapy, and autoimmune diseases. Martin subsequently held positions at the Ott-von-Guericke-University in Magdeburg, the University of Heidelberg, and most recently at Aachen University. Martin always had a drive to understand how things worked at the cell biology level, and his enthusiastic work resulted in the publication of about 120 research papers, several in high-ranking journals.
      Martin’s research concerned keratinocyte apoptosis after UV irradiation and the role of tumor necrosis factor-receptor family members such as TNF, Fas, or TRAIL (TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand). He was among the first to describe that UV irradiation triggers the production of death ligands such as FasL, which contribute to UV-induced apoptosis. Inspired by working with Henning Walczak, Martin became intrigued by the intracellular control of cell death sensitivity, and he found that increased cFLIP levels (cellular FLICE-like IL-1ß-converting enzyme inhibitory protein) are important in controlling cell death resistance of keratinocytes, cutaneous squamous carcinoma cells, and melanoma cells. When it became clear, about 10 years ago, that necrotic cell death was also controlled by programmed molecular pathways, now known as necroptosis (a RIPK1-dependent form of regulated necrosis), Martin helped elucidate how cells decide between dying in an apoptotic or necroptotic way. His group was one of the first to show the importance of cIAPs (cellular inhibitors of apoptosis) in controlling RIPK1 (receptor interacting protein 1) activation and subsequent cell death during death receptor-induced apoptosis or necroptosis. Martin realized that cell death control is important for skin homeostasis and found that in vivo cFLIP protects the epidermis against spontaneous inflammation and TNF-induced keratinocyte death. Interestingly, epidermal cFLIP was lost in patients with severe drug reactions associated with epidermal apoptosis. His inspiring studies on molecular cell death mechanisms in combination with his expertise as a practicing dermatologist would surely have led to many more interesting findings with therapeutic relevance in dermatology.
      In addition to being an excellent scientist, Martin Leverkus was much appreciated by the research community as a friend who was enthusiastically sharing new insights, ideas, and tools that he and his group developed. Martin was passionate about his work and was seeking to learn from others. At meetings, he was always in the mood to share a few good beers with his friends and colleagues. Martin’s great passion for science was inspiring for his students and colleagues. His extraordinary memory and intellect were the engine pushing the group forward. Conveying his enthusiasm and endless energy to his mentees was his natural state of being. Martin supported his group members in their personal lives as well, and he never left anyone without help. The world will miss him as a great person, as well as a great scientist who has taken a million brilliant ideas with him.
      Martin leaves his wife, Charlotte, and two children.