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Obituary: Department of Animal Science has lost a gifted and dedicated employee

On October 19, Helle Risdahl Juul-Madsen passed away at Randers Hospital after having fought against cancer for 11 months. Since 1996 until now, Helle worked in Foulum, primarily occupied with the molecular aspects involved in genetic disease resistance in chickens. We bring here an obituary authored by her colleagues and friends from Aarhus University, Foulum

In memoriam

Helle Risdahl Juul-Madsen


On Monday, October 19, our work colleague and friend Helle Risdahl Juul-Madsen passed away at Randers Hospital after having fought a losing battle against cancer for 11 months.

As the daughter of Tommy and Edel Jensen, Helle was born on November 8, 1957 in Vrå where she spent her childhood as the second-oldest of four siblings. She went to high school in Brønderslev where she graduated in1977.

Helle studied biology at Aarhus University and graduated in 1985 majoring in genetics. This was also where Helle met her husband whom she married in 1984. They moved to Copenhagen where Helle got a position as scientist at the then Panum Institute. In 1992 and 1994 their two children, Kristian and Line, were born, of whom Helle spoke with great joy and was rightly very proud.

Helle carried out her PhD study in molecular biology at Copenhagen University and handed in her thesis entitled Molecular analysis of the chicken major histocompatibility complex in relation to Marek's disease in 1995. Since then, Helle has been occupied with the molecular aspects involved in genetic disease resistance in chickens.

From 1996, Helle first worked as a scientist and later as a senior scientist primarily within this field of research at the Danish Institute of Animal Science, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences and later at Aarhus University (all situated in Foulum). From Copenhagen, Helle brought with her more than 10 unique chicken lines that were specific with regard to their tissue type antigens and provided the background for many of Helle’s publications. Later, Helle had her collection of lines extended by chickens varying with respect to mannan-binding lectin which plays an important role for the animals’ general robustness.

Helle was a very well-liked, gifted and dedicated research colleague who had a distinct sense of justice. She was systematic in the approach to her work and often defended her professional pride unbendingly. Her extensive professional knowledge was therefore crucial for Helle’s ability to attract large amounts of research funds – even in hard times. Sometimes the experimental plans could be extremely complicated and the work scheduled for inconvenient hours, like for instance when the incubator had to be checked every other hour for more than 24 hours to be able to collect newly hatched chickens. In this case, Helle herself participated in the middle watch from 18:00 to 06:00.

Helle enjoyed unreserved professional respect, not only in Denmark but also internationally, and she had a large network of collaborators all over the world. The poultry industry profited by Helle’s efforts through project cooperation and her longstanding activities in the Poultry Tax Foundation.

Helle lived with her husband and two children in Randers where she leaves many traces. As a group chairman, Helle was involved in work with the YMCA scouts for many years. In this capacity, she took on a lot of planning and practical tasks solving them with the same organisational talent, systematic approach and great overview that characterised her in her job. It amounted to many scout camps, jobs as kitchen assistant and annual distributions of telephone books, the latter constituting the financial basis of the scout group’s existence.

Privately, Helle was a decidedly homeloving person who cherished family traditions and holidays. Being a guest in Helle and Lars’ home has always been an exceptional experience where both the food, the service and a game of Bezzerwizzer constituted the perfect setting for a pleasant evening.

We have lost a good colleague and friend whom we will miss dearly.

Our thoughts go to Helle’s husband, Lars, and their two children, Line and Kristian, who have lost her far too early.

In memory of Helle!

Colleagues and friends from Aarhus University, Foulum