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In Memoriam

In Memory of Bo Erik Hedlund

Bo died peacefully on March 8th, disappointed he couldn’t get his second Covid vaccination in order to finally hug his grandchildren after a year of social distancing.

Bo was born in Sweden where he studied for an undergraduate degree in physical chemistry at the University of Uppsala. He then moved to the US where he attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota and was awarded a PhD in 1974 for a study of the interactions of 2,3-diphosphoglycerate and adenosine triphosphate with hemoglobin in the laboratory of Rex Lovrien. This was the start of a life-long research interest not just in the chemistry and biochemistry of hemoglobin but in many aspects of iron metabolism including sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, iron chelation therapy and iron toxicity.

Early in his career Bo worked on hemoglobin-based blood substitutes and was one of the first to delineate the potential toxicities they might cause. He later pioneered the development of therapies for iron overload in diseases such as thalassemia. His creative development of an iron chelator more efficient at removing excess iron and reducing the frequency of chelator infusions to improve the quality of life in individuals with iron overload was groundbreaking. Subsequently oral iron chelators have been developed supplanting infusions for many but clearly proving Bo’s prescient inspirations.

Bo co-founded Biomedical Frontiers in 1986, focusing on pharmaceuticals for iron toxicity, and later became its President. Maintaining a strong interest in hematology and innovative research he was a founding member of the International BioIron Society, a consultant and matchmaker, connecting start-up companies and researchers across the globe. A traveler at heart, his scientific and Swedish connections enabled him to travel the world. Acknowledging his lifetime interest in hematology, in 2012 the American Society of Hematology made him a “Distinguished Emeritus Member”. Since 2014 Bo had also been an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

In addition to Bo’s life-long research interest in hemoglobin he also had a strong interest in haptoglobin and realized its clinical potential. In 2013 IBIS helped Bo to organize a satellite meeting, entitled “Workshop on haptoglobin and related proteins: biology, pathology, genetics and clinical applications” as part of the 5th BioIron Congress at University College London. Thanks to Bo’s enthusiasm and foresight, there is now a much wider interest in haptoglobin and good progress has been made on a number of therapeutic development fronts. In particular, the Bio Products Laboratory has collaborated on a project to investigate the use of haptoglobin to improve recovery of patients from subarachnoid haemorrhage. This project involves a team of scientists and clinicians from the Wessex Neurological Centre in the UK, with support from the charity “Smile4Wessex”. Preliminary results of this study show that damage to brain cells increases with increase in hemorrhage but haptoglobin can protect brain cells from damage. These initial results were undoubtedly of great interest to Bo.

Many friends of Bo knew of his dry sense of humour, his incredible talent in the kitchen, the joy he brought to any dance floor (“it’s all in the wrists”), and his generosity. A master of ceremonies, he loved to gather with friends and was always up for a celebration, especially those where he could introduce folks to Swedish traditions. He was a clear thinker, open minded and curious about people and ideas. He played tennis twice weekly until health issues intervened, and even though his heart failure was progressive, he lived each day fully and with grace.

Bo is survived by his wife Ann (there’s an epic 55-year love story that started with letter writing across the Atlantic!) as well as his two adoring children, son Erik and daughter Emilie, and five much loved grandchildren. Bo’s Swedish family was also always an integral part of Hedlund family life. In Sweden he leaves behind his special half sister ├ůsa, a treasured aunt, and numerous cousins.

Bo was loved deeply by his family and friends and will be greatly missed. We encourage all those missing Bo to enjoy a good meal and toast him with a favorite glass of wine, dance in their kitchen to a Beatles or Stones tune, and enjoy spending time with ones they love after such a long year of separation.

Patricia & Rob Evans (Haemochromatosis International), John More (Bio Products Laboratory, UK) and Gregory Vercellotti (University of Minnesota Medical School)

posted: July 13, 2021