Kaethi Geering


A tribute to Kaethi Geering (1944-2015)

Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology

University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Käthi was born in Aarau on August 4, 1944. She followed primary and secondary schools in Basel. She was bilingual and multicultural by nature. She obtained her PhD in 1971 at the Basel Institute of Zoology. During her first post-doc at the Tropical Institute in Basel (1972-1975), she studied the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, carrier of the yellow fever, dengue and Chikungunya viruses [1,2], a research that was perhaps the source of her passion for travel in the tropics in Africa, Asia and America. In 1971, she “migrated” to Western Switzerland in Monthey to follow her husband, Jean-Marc, a young paediatrician at the City Hospital Pediatric Division led by Claude Godard (brother of the filmmaker). With them, she published a clinical study on renin in the newborn, a first interest in kidney physiology [3].

She joined the Institute of Pharmacology (later Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology) on December 1, 1976. At that time my research group was composed of three members: Hans-Peter Gäggeler, Käthi and myself. This was the beginning of a fantastic scientific adventure and friendship of almost 40 years. The scientific contributions of Käthi are considerable: she was the first to purify the amphibian Na,K-ATPase [4] allowing to raise highly specific polyclonal antibodies against the a and the b subunit [5-7] allowing to study the biosynthesis and assembly of Na, K-ATPase in the endoplasmic reticulum [8,9]. She was also the first to identify the role of β subunit as chaperone protein necessary to transport Na, K-ATPase to the plasma membrane [10]. Finally, she was able to clarify the function of a family of “FXYD” proteins [11-17].

Käthi’s work is characterized by its precision, rigor and resilience in pursuit of a line of research never succumbing to the charms of scientific modes and of “bandwagons”. This clear and linear scientific trajectory was the support of a bright academic career: Maitre-Assistante in 1979, Assistant Professor in 1981, Associate Professor in 1986 and Full Professor in 2004. In the Faculty of Biology and Medicine, she was recognized as an outstanding teacher at the pre-graduate and post- graduate level. She was involved in the academic affairs of our University, particularly committed to the cause of women in academia. Käthi made great efforts to promote womens to faculty positions and was probably pleased to see that parity was possible at least in her Department ! At the Symposium held in her honor in 2006, bringing together top experts in the field, I proposed a new acronym for FXYD:

  • F for long-lasting Friendship,
  • X for Xcellence in science, mentoring, teaching and everything else,
  • Y for You will never forget Käthi
  • D for Definitively the best …

She took an early retirement during the spring 2008 but remained very present in the life of the Department thanks to her enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge, her scientific expertise, her knowledge of the world and people, and her great humanity. How many students, post-docs and colleagues who only came to her office for a friendly advice or just a chat?

She always remained discreet about her private life: her health has not always been “un fleuve tranquille”. She had already been seriously undermined twice by severe warnings, while she was working in the lab. She recovered remarkably. The latest “assault” against her health took her by surprise and was impossible to overcome. Käthi had the great discretion and modesty to share her sufferings only with a few close friends. Käthi passed away on January 9, 2015.

Käthi you were an outstanding scientist and teacher, a loyal friend and a mentor appreciated by generations of students, and we will not forget you …

Bernard Rossier Selection of landmark papers published by Kaethi Geering