Dirk Willem van Bekkum 30 Juli 1925 - 17 Juli 2015
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Institute of Children Oncology,
Hematology and Transplantation, St.Petersburg, Russia
Center for Stem Cell Research and Development,
Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey
He proved mortal, his inspiration lives on
Dick van Bekkum, one of the pioneers of bone marrow transplantation, passed away on July 17 2015, just before his 90th birthday.
Dick van Bekkum was born in the Netherlands Indies, today Indonesia, where his father worked as a Dutch government official. He received his MD degree from Leiden University and completed a PhD in endocrinology cum laude. His scientific career started as head of Radiation Biology at the Medical Biological Laboratory (MBL) of the National Defense Organization TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, but Dick decided in 1956 to establish his own institute, the Radiobiological Institute of the Organization for Health Research TNO, a civil institution primarily dedicated to radiation protection, and was appointed In 1966 Professor of Radiobiology at the newly founded Medical Faculty of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and one year later Professor of Experimental Transplantation Biology at Leiden University.
During the period 1956-1966 Dick, collaborating with Otto Vos, Loek M. van Putten, Hans Balner, Marco de Vries and Georges Mathé (Paris), described the pathogenesis and histopathology of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) in mice, rats, monkeys and man. Much of this research was summarized in 1967 in a monograph written with De Vries, entitled Radiation Chimaeras and its application in humans was pioneered in severe immune deficiency (SCID) patients in collaboration with the Leiden Children’s Hospital (De Koning et al,. 1969), simultaneous with RA Good and co-workers at the University of Minnesota (Meuwissen et al, 1969). It is no coincidence that two of the same four European institutes that subsequently practiced allogeneic BMT for immune deficiencies (Fischer et al, 1986) developed the seminal X-linked SCID gene therapy trials two decades later. However, at this time, the Leiden Children’s Hospital no longer served as one of the European referral hospitals for inherited immune deficiencies, while the incidence of SCID in The Netherlands is low. In addition, the continued collaborative efforts of the Radiobiological Institute and the Leiden Children’s Hospital to apply BMT to diseases such as lysosomal storage diseases resulted in the discovery that microglia descendants of hematopoietic stem cells are capable of passing the blood-brain barrier (Hoogerbrugge et al, 1988), nowadays applied successfully in stem cell gene therapy for such disorders. Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation worldwide has passed the one million patients treated hallmark over a period of 40 years.
The basic research at the Radiobiological Institute further included identification of the hematopoietic stem cell (Dicke et al., 1973; Visser et al., 1984), while at an early stage also stem cell gene therapy in adenosine deaminase deficient SCID was pioneered (van Beusechem et al., 1990).
In 1973, van Bekkum was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of The Netherlands. In 1987, he received a royal honor, Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands. In 1990 he received the highest award of the City of Rotterdam (Wolfert van Borsele Medal). Van Bekkum was one of the founders of EORTC (European Organization for Research on Treatment of Cancer) and President from 1969-75 and in 1977 established first Comprehensive Cancer Center in The Netherlands after a sabbatical at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA, in 1975. Dirk has been involved in the early phase of the foundation of the European Bone Marrow Transplantation Group (EBMT), Center for International Blood and Marrow Research (CIBMTR), International Society of Experimental Hematology (ISEH) and a founder of the Dutch Society of Immunology. He was an active member of the Transplant Society. Dirk was also a honorary member of the Dutch Society of Gene and Cell Therapy. The Van Bekkum Lecture at the annual scientific meeting of the EBMT Congress has been established in honor of his contributions.
The international fame of the Radiobiological Institute attracted many scientists, e.g. Donald Metcalf, Norman Iscove, Ted Fliedner. It was closed by TNO in 1992. In keeping with his character, Dick refused to give up his office and secretariat, and eventually TNO had no other choice than to break down the building to make Dick move.
Unstoppable, at age 84 Dick founded Cinderella Therapeutics in 2009, a non-profit organization in the Netherlands of which the aim is to make orphan drugs and treatments available for acceptable costs.
Dick is survived by his 4 daughters, Marion, Pleuntje, Joos and Nienke, many grandchildren, and his lifetime companion, his wife Ada. Dick was a larger-than-life character, as his family put it: “He proved mortal, his inspiration lives on”.
- van Bekkum DW, de Vries MJ. Radiation Chimaeras. Logos Press; New York and London: Academic Press, 1967.
- van Beusechem V.W., Kukler A., Einerhand M.P.V., Bakx T.A., van der Eb A.J., van Bekkum DW, Valerio D. Expression of human adenosine deaminase in mice transplanted with hematopoietic stem cells infected with amphotropic retroviruses. J Exp Med. 1990; 172(3): 729-36.
- Dicke KA, van Noord MJ, Maat B, Schaefer UW, van Bekkum DW. Identification of cells in primate bone marrow resembling the hemopoietic stem cell in the mouse. Blood. 1973; 42(2): 195-208.
- Dooren LJ, de Vries MJ, van Bekkum DW, Cleton FJ, de Koning J. Sex-linked thymic epithelial hypoplasia in two siblings. Attempt at treatment by transplantation with fetal thymus and adult bone marrow. J Pediatr. 1968; 72(1): 51-62.
- Fischer A, Griscelli C, Friedrich W, Kubanek B, Levinsky R, Morgan G, Vossen J, Wagemaker G, Landais P. Bone-marrow transplantation for immunodeficiencies and osteopetrosis: European survey, 1968-1985. Lancet. 1986; 2(8515): 1080-4.
- Hoogerbrugge PM, Suzuki K, Suzuki K, Poorthuis BJ, Kobayashi T, Wagemaker G, van Bekkum DW. Donor-derived cells in the central nervous system of twitcher mice after bone marrow transplantation. Science 1988; 239(4843): 1035-8.
- de Koning J, Van Bekkum DW, Dicke KA, Dooren LJ, Rádl J, Van Rood JJ. Transplantation of bone-marrow cells and fetal thymus in an infant with lymphopenic immunological deficiency. Lancet. 1969 ; 1 (7608): 1223-7.
- Meuwissen HJ, Gatti RA, Terasaki PI, Hong R, Good RA. Treatment of Lymphopenic Hypogammaglobulinemia and Bone-Marrow Aplasia by Transplantation of Allogeneic Marrow - Crucial Role of Histocompatibility Matching. N Engl J Med 1969; 281: 691-697.
- Visser JW, Bauman JG, Mulder AH, Eliason JF, de Leeuw AM. Isolation of murine pluripotent hemopoietic stem cells. J Exp Med. 1984; 159(6): 1576-90.