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We were sad to learn that our dear colleague Rebecca has died just a few days before what would have been her 63rd birthday.

Rebecca M A SitsapesanRebecca was appointed as a professor of pharmacology in the Department and Tutorial Fellow in Medicine at Hertford College in 2013, and led an outstanding team of cardiac pharmacologists here.  She was a pioneer of single ion channel measurements in lipid bilayers, a technique which allows the function of single protein molecules to be measured, and their modulation by drugs.

Rebecca was an undergraduate in pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen and graduated in 1981. She moved to Leeds where she did an MSc in cardiovascular sciences, and then did a PhD at the University of Strathclyde on the effects of opiates on ischaemia-induced cardiac arrhythmias.  After post-doctoral studies in cardiology at Charing Cross and Glasgow, she moved to The National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College where she was successively a BHF Lecturer and the promoted to Senior Lecturer.  It was here that she forged her successful collaboration with Professor Alan Williams, and their groups became a world-leading centre for the study of ryanodine receptors (RyRs), the major mechanism for releasing calcium in heart cells and controlling their contractility.  Her pioneering work on RyR channel regulation by luminal calcium and ATP has shed light on the mechanism of calcium-induced calcium release in cardiac muscle, which is a crucially important process for the physiology and disease of the heart. In 2001 she moved to the University of Bristol, at first as a Lecturer, then Reader and finally as a professor of pharmacology before coming to Oxford.

At Oxford whilst continuing her studies on ryanodine receptors, she also showed that trimeric intracellular cation channels (TRIC) channels in the sarcoplasmic reticulum are required to mediate a counter potassium current to facilitate calcium release from these calcium stores.  She also performed the first single channel recordings of lysosomal two-pore channels (TPCs) which are gated by the second messenger, NAADP, in collaboration with Antony Galione’s laboratory.

Rebecca Sitsapesan (centre) pictured in the lab with members of her groupHer colleagues and collaborators from around the world have always recognised Rebecca’s insightful and analytical thinking, which together with her contagious passion, commitment and dedication have inspired everyone that was fortunate to work with her. Apart from being an exceptional and enthusiastic pharmacologist, Rebecca was also a person of remarkable character. She had a unique ability to shape the critical and creative thinking of the students and postdoctoral fellows she guided and mentored. She was kind, caring and she tirelessly devoted her time to support all members of her lab.

Rebecca formally retired from her post in 2019 after her final illness was diagnosed, but remarkably continued to publish scientific papers and supervise the work in her lab with  characteristic care, enthusiasm and good humour until a few days before her death.  Her most recent paper on the activation of RyR1 by statins, which underlies statin-induced myopathy, was published only a week ago. During this time she was supported by her husband and children, and sustained by her strong Christian faith.

She will be greatly missed by all of us as a cherished and distinguished colleague, mentor, teacher, and friend.

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