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All of us at CERM are deeply saddened for the loss of Sir Christopher Dobson (1949-2019)

Chris Dobson, Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology at the University of Cambridge, was a pioneer in the field of protein misfolding. Among many biophysical techniques Chris often took advantage of the unique ability of NMR spectroscopy to provide information at atomic resolution on protein structure and on the dynamics of protein folding.

He contributed to describe and understand protein folding intermediates (Radford, S. E., Dobson, C. M., & Evans, P. A. (1992). The folding of hen lysozyme involves partially structured intermediates and multiple pathways. Nature, 358(6384), 302.), the mechanisms of cooperative / non-cooperative unfolding and the properties of molten globule states (Schulman, B. A., Kim, P. S., Dobson, C. M., & Redfield, C. (1997). A residue-specific NMR view of the non-cooperative unfolding of a molten globule. Nature structural biology, 4(8), 630.).

His research was then focused on defining the fundamental principles by which proteins, that would normally fold in their native lowest energy conformation to exert their physiological function, can under some circumstances misfold to generate cytotoxic aggregates (Dobson, C. M. (2003). Protein folding and misfolding. Nature, 426(6968), 884.). In particular, Chris introduced the fundamental concept of inherent toxicity of early aggregation states of misfolded proteins (Bucciantini, M., Giannoni, E., Chiti, F., Baroni, F., Formigli, L., Zurdo, J., Taddei, N., Ramponi, G., Dobson, C.M. and Stefani, M. (2002). Inherent toxicity of aggregates implies a common mechanism for protein misfolding diseases. nature, 416(6880), 507.). His groundbreaking research greatly contributed in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He has since been extremely active in extending the basic understanding and the potential applications of protein misfolding and aggregation to medicine and to other applied fields such as biomaterial science.

He visited Florence on numerous occasions for scientific meetings, including the XIX ICMRBS meeting organized in 2000 by Ivano Bertini and Lucia Banci. In 2006 he was awarded an Honoris Causa Degree in Medicine and Surgery by the University of Florence for his outstanding contributions.

On a personal note, we fondly remember him for his enlightening contributions and the fruitful discussions at many international conferences, his thoughtful and pleasant personality, his passion for research and his fascination for the fundamental mechanisms of living matter.

Chris’ work has had an enormous influence in Life Sciences. He leaves behind an outstanding scientific legacy, which will have fundamental implications in the development of therapies for currently incurable degenerative diseases.

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Chris giving a plenary lecture at the XIX ICMRBS meeting in Florence, 2000

Dobson HC

Chris receiving his Honoris Causa Degree at the University of Florence, 2006