A life spent drug hunting in the sea – University of Copenhagen

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28 April 2015

A life spent drug hunting in the sea

Obituary: Carsten Christophersen

As a nature loving chemist Carsten Christophersen spent his life looking for new potential drugs in animals, microorganisms and plants. Now he has lost the battle to lung cancer.

Searching for potential drugs beneath the waves

Christophersen started his career as a deck hand on the Danish tall ship “The Georg Stage”. Here he learnt the joys of hard work and to love the ocean where he was to find so many interesting chemical compounds.

A mysterious ailment uncovered

Following his stint at sea he took a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Copenhagen in 1966. As a young researcher he worked in theoretical Sulphur chemistry but soon followed his heart into investigations on the chemistry of sea dwelling organisms. One of his most respected contributions was to explain why some fishermen contract the mysterious ailment “Dogger Bank Itch”. Against all odds he succeeded in proving, that the disease is caused by an allergy towards a compound formed in a species of bryozoan or moss animalcule. This was to be Christophersens scientific breakthrough. On the basis of this work he formed a research group at the University of Copenhagen, Department of Chemistry, where he achieved a number of pioneering results.

Research and training in south and central America

Apart from the University of Copenhagen, Christophersen also had a lifelong collaboration with universities in countries such as Mexico and Peru where he taught, researched and gave talks. In later years he engaged himself in collaborations with researchers at the Technical University of Denmark. Here he was a great support in establishing the field of natural product chemistry at the Department of Systems Biology. For this reason it was natural that he joined DTU as an affiliate professor after retiring from his position at UCPH in 2011. Christoffersen was thrilled about the affiliation and involved himself in new activities in discovering bioactive natural compounds in bacteria and algae. He visited twice a week until he took ill.

Proponent of popular science

On top of his scientific work Carsten Christophersen was also a keen communicator on science for non-specialists. He worked for years as editor for the Danish periodical “Dansk Kemi” and later for “Ung Kemi”. He also authored the book “Den Hvide Mands Fodspor” in 2004.The title refers to the weed Plantago major or broadleaf plaintain, which has followed the white man as a foot print all over the world

Thomas Ostenfeld Larsen, Department of systems biology, Danish Technical University, Søren Brøgger Christensen, Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen , Jes Andersen, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen.