Last week we received the sad news of the passing of Mumna Al Banchaabouchi, Head of the Phenotyping Facility at EMBL Rome from 2004 to 2012. The news was painful and left us shaken. Mumna passed away at the untimely age of 49 after a battle with metastatic breast cancer. Her death leaves a dark hole in our hearts – especially for those of us who were not able to share her passage and know her thoughts in those last moments.
Mumna was raised in Belgium and Morocco. She completed her doctoral training in the United States at the University of Puerto Rico where she became an expert in learning and memory behavior in laboratory mice. She took over the nascent Phenotyping Facility at EMBL Rome and transformed it into a service that was used by researchers across all groups at the Unit. In particular, she made major contributions to several key publications. She was fearless – establishing in vivo radiotelemetry for monitoring physiology in freely behaving mice, for example (Audero et al., Science 2008). She was open to challenges – racing to complete pharmacological experiments to validate a new drug target discovered by Peer Bork’s group, for example (Kuhn, Al Banchaabouchi et al., Mol Syst Biol 2013). She was also involved in the EU-funded EUMORPHIA and EUMODIC large-scale mouse phenotyping efforts. After leaving EMBL she became founding Head of the Preclinical Phenotyping Platform at Vienna BioCenter Core Facilities in Austria, and in 2016 she became a Research Assistant at the University of Vienna.
Mumna was bright, energetic, and enthusiastic. One staff member regularly joked with her that her lowest speed was fourth gear. Her inquisitive smile and sparkling eyes remain etched in our memories. She was passionately involved in her work, and spoke eloquently about her upbringing and love for research in an interview she gave to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) – expressing her curiosity for life in a very personal manner. In so many ways this made her a role-model EMBL scientist – driven by curiosity, reflective, interactive.
Mumna was laid to rest in Schaerbeek, Belgium. We join her family in grieving her passing. The world needs more persons with her pure spirit, and she will be missed.