OBITUARY by Prof. P. Riley

Bengt Larsson (1942-1998)


It is with deep regret that we report the death of Bengt Larsson. He died suddenly at home in Uppsala on 8th October 1998.

Bengt Larsson was born in Umea in 1942. He was proud of his Northern roots but had settled in Uppsala where he was Professor of Toxicology in the Biomedical Centre of Uppsala University. He entered the University of Uppsala in 1965 to read philosophy, literature and the humanities and went on to study mathematics, chemistry and geology. He had a deep interest in nature, especially in birds, and was also a gifted musician.

His career began when he joined the Department of Toxicology in 1973 to work with Nils Gunnar Lindquist and Sven Ullberg at which time he switched his attention to biology and medicine and was awarded his PhD in 1979. His knowledge of chemistry led him to pioneer the development of X-ray film that could be used for tritium autoradiography (now sold widely for this purpose as Tritiumfilm, Ultrofilm 3H and Hyperfilm 3H). Autoradiographic techniques were then being introduced for the detection of the biodistribution of materials and Bengt applied this to a wide variety of systems. His main research work work was related to the interaction between chemicals and melanin. He demonstrated the selective accumulation of drugs in melanogenic tissue and became a world authority in this field. He published many original papers pertaining to this topic and was frequently asked to review progress in this area, particularly in respect of the possible diagnostic or therapeutic potential in melanoma of agents selective for melanogenically active cells. His pre-eminence in his field also led to his involvement in many international research ventures and he was widely respected and admired.

Not only did Bengt Larsson’s studies demonstrate melanin binding by a wide spectrum of compounds but the reasons for the affinity were explained in detail. His work emphasized the relative importance of electrostatic interactions and the formation of charge-transfer complexes in the binding of chemicals to melanin. He also showed the contribution of hydrophobic interactions to the melanin-affinity of compounds such as polycyclic hydrocarbons and aflatoxin B1. The important cytotoxic consequences of melanin affinity to the ear and the extrapyramidal system (as in MPTP-induced Parkinsonism) was investigated with Lindquist and Annika Lyden-Sokolowski.

Bengt Larsson, together with Lennart Dencker, demonstrated the covalent uptake of thiols by melanogenic tissues and, in studies with Ulrik Ringborg, showed that radioiodine-labelled thiouracil has clinical potential as a diagnostic aid in melanoma. He was also involved in the possibility of using this vehicle for boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) and, in collaboration with Amilcar Roberto and Ulla Mars, had developed a radiographic technique based on boron-thioureylenes. He was actively pursuing this area of radiopharmacology at the time of his death.

Bengt Larsson organised a most successful ESPCR Scientific Meeting in Uppsala in 1989. He was very proud of the important biological tradition centred on Uppsala, the home of Linnaeus, and enjoyed showing visitors round the museum at Hamarby. The Conference Reception was held on a warm summer’s evening in the Botanical Gardens founded by Linnaeus. In 1991 he was elected to the Secretaryship of the ESPCR. At that time the Secretary of the Society was also the Treasurer and Bengt Larsson was very successful in building up the finances and was the first to obtain Industrial sponsorhip for the Society.

Bengt Larsson was elected President of the ESPCR in 1994 and carried out his official duties with distinction. He was unfailing in his support for the membership and his able and benign Chairmanship was greatly appreciated by the Council. He served on the Council of the IFPCS and was instrumental, as a member of the Publications Committee, in guiding the Federation through several difficult times. He was, at the time of his death, Treasurer of the IFPCS. His patient and undemonstrative style was widely admired and he was painstaking and diligent in discharging his responsibilities.

Bengt was a deeply reflective man who felt most comfortable in the solitary grandeur of the natural world. He grew up in a liberal household and as a boy overheard many political conversations between his parents and visiting Party leaders and members of the parliament (Riksdag) which may have influenced his broadminded view of life. His childhood summers were spent on the small island of Holmon at peace in the contemplation of nature, and he returned there regularly with his family in later years. His love for the woods and the silent waters of his homeland seemed to be reflected in his quiet and generous nature. He was, in every sense, a gentleman. We have lost a fine scientist, a loyal servant of the ESPCR, and, most of all, a true and beloved friend.

He is survived by his wife, Pia, and daughter, Liselott, to whom we offer our deepest condolences.