Obituary: Ken Haynes

Ken Haynes


Professor Ken Haynes was a great fungal biologist with a keen eye for the Grand Vision, a loyal, supportive and hilarious friend to many in the fungal community, an inspiring mentor to innumerable junior scientists, and a loyal supporter of Fulham Football Club. He left us far too early, on 19th March this year at the age of 58, but he has entrusted us with a superb legacy in the field of molecular medical mycology.

Ken was a consummate scientist.  He was also gregarious and warm-hearted.  He placed a lot of importance in getting to know his fellow scientists (young and old) in the relaxed atmosphere of a bar or pub after a day of science.  Ken had the unique ability to make everyone feel at ease and part of the party. Ken advanced science and the scientific community as much over a pint as over a PowerPoint slide.

Ted White, University of Missouri – Kansas City

Ken studied Microbiology at the University of Bristol, graduating in 1980. This was a fine vintage for medical mycologists such as Liz Johnston (now Director of the Mycology Reference Laboratory at Public Health England in Bristol) who was in the same class, and both enjoyed tutelage from Nick Read (founding Director of the Manchester Fungal Infection Group).

There are some undergraduates who really stand out as potential academic stars of the future. Ken was one of these individuals.  He was an undergraduate at Bristol in the late 70’s when I was doing my PhD there, and I demonstrated to him in his many mycology practical classes.  Besides being exceedingly bright, Ken was very passionate about his science, had strong well-argued critical opinions, naturally oozed self-confidence, and was always stimulating and, I would add, a laugh, to be around.  We subsequently moved in different fields of mycology, but when we met up again 20 years later I realised we had established a really strong and long-lasting bond.  I got to know Ken better, he provided lots of encouragement, and we became good pals.  I will forever have strong memories of his big man-hugs, great sense of humour (which was sometimes rather weird), much laughter and, of course, great discussions about science, football, gastronomically related things and quality beer. We dearly miss him.

Nick Read – Manchester Fungal Infection Group

Ken then pursued his PhD with Tom Rogers at the Westminster Medical School, University of London, graduating in 1990. During his PhD, Ken clinically validated the diagnostic potential of Aspergillus antigens (which paved the way for the development of the commercial Aspergillus Galactomannan test) and anti-Aspergillus IgG antibodies associated with invasive aspergillosis.  He worked with Rosemary Barnes, then a Research Registrar undertaking an MD on aspergillosis. Together they made regular trips up the Northern line to Colindale with large conical flasks concealed beneath their coats to use equipment provided by a very supportive Veronica Hearn and Donald Mackenzie.  This work resulted in a Lancet publication of which Ken was justly proud, and this early work continues to be cited (Lancet 336, 1210; J Clin Microbiol 28, 2040). It is poignant, given the cause of Ken’s death, that his PhD project was, in part, funded by a grant from the Leukaemia Research Fund.

It is very sad to have lost Ken and I have many memories of our times in the 1980’s and through to working together at the Hammersmith. He was proud of his Irish links as evidenced by his loyal support of the Irish soccer team. I am sure everyone will have a quote from Ken but I do recall his regular use of the term ‘it’s pants’ when he didn’t like or approve of something, probably remembered because I was the recipient of it from time to time!

Tom Rogers, Trinity College Dublin

While working with Tom Rogers and Veronica Hearn, Ken visited Jean Paul Latge’s lab at the Pasteur Institute, and it was there that he first met Joy Sturtevant. This was the beginning of a close across-the-pond friendship, which lasted for decades.  Typical of Ken’s close friendships, as well sharing their scientific visions, Ken and Joy enjoyed life experiences together (mountain biking, soccer and baseball games, fine food).

I feel honoured that Ken considered me one of his oldest friends because he did not suffer fools gladly. I visited Ken and Karen in October 2017, and thus had a chance to say good-bye.  Typically, despite the seriousness of his illness, Ken was optimistic.  I have so many memories of great times together with Ken – to be shared over a beer or two, but be ready for tears and laughter!

Joy Sturtevant, LSU Health New Orleans

Straight after his PhD, Ken gained his first tenured position as a Lecturer in Medical Mycology in the Department of Medical Microbiology at Charing Cross & Westminster Medical School, (succeeding Dr Betty Partridge on her retirement) in his beloved London, Although this was mainly a teaching position, Ken started to develop his own research, and he won seed funding from the Wellcome Trust to work on Cryptococcus neoformans.

In 1995, Ken transferred to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, London, based in the Department of Infectious Diseases & Bacteriology. He continued to build his research on fungal pathogens while making significant contributions to teaching, developing postgraduate courses on Medical Mycology and Parasitology.  In 1997, the Royal Postgraduate Medical School merged with Imperial College London.  Ken continued his work on the Hammersmith Campus, and his own independent research programme gathered momentum as he started to focus on Candida glabrata.  Funding from the Granulomatous Disease Trust was crucial for the establishment of fungal pathogenicity studies at Imperial.  Ken was promoted by Imperial College to Senior Lecturer in 1999, to Reader in Medical Mycology in 2005, and to Professor of Fungal Biology in 2008.  During this period, Ken studied the regulation of pH and stress adaptation and cell division in C. glabrata, and he used this pathogen as a model for the development of novel antifungal drugs.  At Imperial College, Ken enjoyed lively and productive collaborations with Elaine Bignell and Herb Arst, and together they established the Imperial Fungal Group, which became one of three UK centres of excellence working on fungal pathogens.

During this period, Ken, Tom Rogers and Herb Arst held a joint BBSRC project with Mick Tuite and Fritz Muhlschlegel (University of Kent, Canterbury). Herb Arst remembers “On at least one occasion, after a lively joint meeting, we enjoyed a jolly dinner with copious amounts of delicious seafood on the Kent coast.  When the grant ended, the BBSRC gave us top marks on the final report (for the science, not the seafood!)”.

I was a PhD student in Herb’s lab at the Hammersmith Hospital when Ken joined our Department. His fiercely outspoken views on science, life, football and food transformed our lunch breaks and seminar programmes into very lively affairs, bringing humour and more than a touch of humanity to a Clinical Infectious Diseases Department which had become engaged in a head-on battle with emergent invasive fungal infections. Over the next 20 years his encouragement, generosity and inspirational mentorship would profoundly shape my own career. He was a loyal, witty, clever and delightfully mischievous friend. The pain of his untimely passing is greatly tempered by a legacy of enduring friendships and happy memories amongst the many colleagues he interwove inextricably into a very passionate life and career. 

Elaine Bignell, Manchester Fungal Infection Group.

His productivity as a mentor delivered critical new insights into siderophore synthesis and Aspergillus virulence (J Exp Medicine 200, 1213), and the role of Dectin-1 in controlling fungal infection (Nature Immunol 8, 31), the regulation of the pH response in Aspergillus (Molec Microbiol 55, 1072), the epidemiology of Candida dubliniensis (J Clin Microbiol 35, 960), CO2 sensing and fungal morphogenesis in Candida (Curr Biology 15, 2177), gene expression during Aspergillus infection (PLoS Pathogens 4, e1000154; J Infect Dis 200, 1341). His proficiency in securing research funding was underwritten by his drive to address grand unanswered questions in a timely fashion, the application of finely honed grant writing skills and the drive to submit grants at a prolific rate. He was awarded competitive research funding totalling over £11 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, The Wellcome Trust, Pfizer, the Fungal Research Trust and other organisations. He often asked his trainees to peer review his grant applications, an invaluable learning opportunity for those who would eventually pursue independent research careers.

“It lacks va-va-voom!” said Ken, about the first draft of our grant application. These words, borrowed from the great Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, perfectly encapsulated Ken’s love of the beautiful game, of grand, holistic, exciting science, and of teasing his friends.  To help address this lack of “va-va-voom” we added, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the immortal words “Life on this planet is dependent upon …..”.  The application was funded and, as we pursued our Grand Vision of combinatorial stress responses in Candida with our CRISP team, we joked about our blatant hyperbole and we crafted other cunning tricks to extract funds from grant awarding bodies.  Science, sport, ambition, friendship and humour – essential components of the great Professor Ken Haynes! 

Al Brown, University of Aberdeen

Ken’s research on fungal stress adaptation and the pathobiology of fungal diseases was profoundly influential. A common theme in his research was the highly astute and timely application of technological advances to his own research questions.  For example, when upscaled molecular genetics throughput in model yeasts became possible, he immediately recognised its significance for advancing our understanding of the haploid human pathogen Candida glabrata.  Ultimately, this spawned a major contribution to the construction of the C. glabrata deletion collection and its use in the identification of antifungal tolerance genes (PLoS Pathogens 10, e1004211).

Ken loved collaborating with friends and colleagues. Indeed, as Ken’s research developed and accelerated, he developed a strong network of loyal friends and collaborators through his “active networking” at medical mycology meetings around the globe, and in Ireland, France and The States in particular.  This networking was generally lubricated by fine malt whisky and craft beers, carefully selected culinary experiences, and/or expeditions to support the Irish football team at some stadium or other!  The Haynes Network includes an extremely impressive array of highly respected names in medical mycology, including Jan Quinn (Newcastle), Geraldine Butler, Derek Sullivan and Gary Moran (Dublin), Fritz Muhlschlegel (Kent), Jaroslav Stark and Michael Stumpf (Imperial), Al Brown, Neil Gow, Gordon Brown and Celso Grebogi and his team (Aberdeen), Jean Paul Latgé, Christophe d’Enfert and Guilhem Janbon (France), Bernie Hube (Germany), Karl Kuchler and Hubertus Haas (Austria), and Judy Berman, Brendan Cormack, Mike Lorenz and Joy Sturtevant (USA).

Brainstorming with Ken was always thought provoking, but also fun. He liked thinking in new ways and enjoyed the give-and-take of sharing ideas.  Most of all, Ken’s scientific interactions were lively and engaging.  He was blunt and direct, always letting you know where things stood.  I will greatly miss being able to bounce ideas around with him.

Judy Berman, Tel Aviv University

Over the 15 years that I knew Ken we became firm friends. He made my life better, not simply because of fine dining experiences and great trips to Tokyo, but because of his inimitable attitude to science and life in general.  I have never laughed so much as when Ken took it upon himself to make some C. glabrata knock-outs.  He lasted almost one hour in the lab – enough time to flick the ‘dust’ (lyophilised primers) out of his tubes – before relinquishing control back to the experts! Happy times that will always be cherished.

Jan Quinn, Newcastle University

I first met Ken at a BSMM meeting in the early 1990s. I was completely new to mycology and, after what was my first ever presentation at a scientific meeting, he bought me a beer – the first of VERY many beers over what was to become a lifelong and life-affirming friendship!  Following our discussions I spent a week sequencing PCR products in Ken’s lab at Charing Cross, and these data provided the final evidence for a new species, Candida dubliniensis.  Ken visited Dublin many times over the years, sometimes for scientific reasons, but mainly for football.  Despite his accent and love of London, Ken was actually born in Dublin and carried an Irish passport: hence his love of the Irish football team!  He would have been in Russia for the World Cup and I dearly missed his regular Twitter updates on his shenanigans and the trials and tribulations of the English team.  Mycology meetings will never be the same again without Ken’s booming laughter and incisive questions!

Derek Sullivan, Trinity College Dublin

Ken had a gift for connecting to people, no matter who they were.  From the moment you met him, you felt like one of his ‘mates’.  Sharing a meal, full of good food and his unreserved laughs, was always a memorable experience.  The only thing Ken disliked was pretentiousness, which he delighted in pricking with great wit.

Mike Lorenz, University of Texas Medical School

The first thing you noticed was his laugh. You knew when Ken was around.  Ken was both a fantastic colleague, ready to test any interesting hypothesis, as well as a great friend.  He was wonderful person able to see the heart of people.  Some knew him as Prof Ken Haynes, others as “le plus beau” or as a Fulham football club fan.  Ken’s “joie de vivre” was a pleasure to share.

Guilhem Janbon, Pasteur Institute

With help from his collaborators, Ken extended his work into the genomics of C. glabrata, into systems biology and the genetic and protein-protein interaction networks that underlie stress responses and antifungal drug resistance in this pathogen.  His foray into interdisciplinary collaborations was fearless – he tackled interesting questions because they should be answered, not because they were easy to address.  He was able to communicate with mathematicians and physicists and to bring their important perspectives to bear on the biological questions he wanted to address.  Ken had the vision to see research in the context of the big picture bringing an impressive depth of insight.

In 2010, Ken moved to Exeter University to become the Chair of Systems Biology in the Department of Biosciences. Ken quickly established collaborations with like-minded luminaries around him such as Nick Talbot, Ivana Gudelj, Gero Steinberg and David Studholme to actively drive forward interdisciplinary and systems-wide approaches at Exeter.  Ken played a leading role in the design of the new and vibrant Living Systems Institute that now graces their Campus.  He also collaborated with Mike Csukai (Syngenta) and with Nick, David and Gero, exploiting his expertise in fungal genomics, to create an ORFeome for Zymoseptoria tritici, which has the potential to dramatically accelerate the molecular dissection of this major wheat pathogen. His ability to exploit this brilliant resource was brutally curtailed by his illness, which struck shortly after he returned home from the ASM Candida Conference in Seattle in April 2016.

Ken trained a host of young scientists, many of whom are now forging their own independent scientific careers around the globe, and many of whom have adopted the same robust and forthright questioning of models, assumptions and presumptions that we associated with Ken! Indeed, Yogesh Chaudhari (Exeter University) fondly remembers Ken’s refrain at their group meetings: “What the **** is the rationale?!”.

Ken was diagnosed with leukaemia. He underwent a bone marrow transplant in late 2016, but his immune system never fully recovered and he suffered a series of infections, finally succumbing on 19th March 2018.  During brief respites between infections when he was able to see friends, Ken chatted about his scientific visions, his hopes for the Irish in the World Cup this summer, and about Karen and her girls, Jess, Melanie and Issy.  Karen was “someone special” to Ken.

Ken might have left, but he leaves behind a fantastic legacy of great science, fantastic people and a wonderful medical mycology community. He was a great mentor, an incredibly loyal friend, and fantastic colleague.

Working with Ken was one of the best decisions I have made. We would spend endless hours chatting about science, discussing grants, seeking that ‘kicker’ sentence.  Ken was more than just a Professor.  He was a great mentor – straight with his advice and quick with a beer to lessen the blow.  When you joined the Haynes lab you got more than a mentor: you got a beer buddy, football arguer and food snob.  You got Ken!

Jane Usher, University of Exeter

We are very grateful to the many friends and colleagues who offered such great quotes and stories about Ken.  We wish we could have included more.  Their warmth reflects the cohesion, strength and supportive nature of our great medical mycology community.

Al Brown, MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Aberdeen

Elaine Bignell, Manchester Fungal Infection Group, University of Manchester