October 23, 2017

Obituary Denise P. Barlow

With great sadness, we inform our colleagues and the scientific community of the decease of Prof. Dr. Denise P. Barlow. Denise died on October 21, 2017 at the age of 67 after severe illness in the company of friends.

Denise Barlow was one of the most accomplished geneticists ever to operate in Austria and one of the most inspiring epigeneticists in Europe. Denise Barlow is one of the few researchers who could claim not only to have discovered a fundamental regulatory principle of eukaryotic gene expression, molecular imprinting, but to actually have elucidated the underlying mechanism.

In 1991, the Barlow group discovered the first mammalian imprinted gene (Igf2r) and since then, has worked relentlessly to uncover many fascinating details of the imprinting mechanism. As a result, imprinting of the Igf2r gene has acted as a model of epigenetic regulation in mammals. Her laboratory has shown that an unusual and very long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), a macro ncRNA, induces imprinted gene expression. More recently, she proofed that transcription, independent of the lncRNA product, is the mechanisms that silences the Igf2r gene. In addition, the team was able to show that the differential allele activity is regulated by tissue-specific, regulatory DNA elements known as enhancers – a process that could also be implicated in many diseases.

Denise Barlow worked as a state registered nurse in the UK before completing her PhD at the Warwick University. She performed postdoctoral studies in ICRF, London, and at EMBL, Heidelberg, and held group leader positions at the IMP, Vienna, the NKI, Amsterdam, and the IMB Institute in Salzburg. Denise joined CeMM at its very beginning, in 2003, and retired in 2015. She had been EMBO member since 1995, and was an honorary professor of genetics at the University of Vienna. In 2014, Denise Barlow received the Erwin Schrödinger Prize of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the EMBO/EMBL Austrian Chapter Achievement Award Medal for her lifetime achievements.

Today, CeMM would not look and operate the way it does if not for Denise Barlow. Her passion for good science and a demanding work ethics greatly contributed to CeMM’s culture and success. Equally influential has been her fearless quest for intellectual rigor and determination to improve standards, from experimental design to the quality of scientific presentations, through constructive criticism. As a pioneer female group leader in the institutions she worked in, her vigilant and inquisitive spirit met not only support in the past. At CeMM, in the most recent ten years, she said she had finally found a congenial scientific home.

Denise Barlow will be dearly missed by the CeMM Directors, by the entire CeMM Faculty and all researchers, students and colleagues who had the privilege of interacting with her. Denise will undoubtedly continue to inspire us also in future, as an extraordinary researcher, a woman pioneer in scientific leadership, a great mentor and a beloved friend.

Denise Barlow – A career in epigenetics, RNA Biol. 2015 Feb; 12(2): 105–108. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4615223/