Marie-Adèle Biography

Drs. Marie-Adèle Rajandream-Barrell

26th January 1964 - 12th July 2008

I wrote this for the funeral service and it was read by the Rev. Hilary Davey.

Marie Adèle Rajandream was born on the 26th January 1964 in London.  At about the age of 4 her family moved to Haarlem in the Netherlands and although a British citizen, she was brought as Dutch, something she was really proud of.

She went to the University of Leiden and studied History of Art and went on to do a Masters in Video Art.  If you put her name into Google you will find  many articles in magazines and chapters on the subject written by her in addition to all the later science entries.  She worked in Amsterdam in Video Art for a while but sensing that there was not a future in this at the time she retrained in Business Computing and worked in Banking for a while.

She firstly married Jan Peiter Abrahams and came to Cambridge in 1991 when he came to do postdoctoral research at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology on the New Addenbrookes site where Bart worked.  Not having a job in England she offered to work for free at the LMB in order to gain experience and came to work firstly on a project with Bart and Frank Mallet to develop a new DNA sequencing machine.  Bart was subsequently able to get her some money and she moved into Bart's office and worked on DNA sequence analysis programmes and helped develop the Artemis programme (then called DIANA), which many of you use today.  

At the time Bart was crippled with inflammatory arthritis and very depressed but they hit it off together and formed a great team with her putting Bart's sequence analysis knowledge into computer programmes to analyse DNA.  People also began to notice laughter coming out of the office again and a reemergence of the old Bart.

In 1992 John Sulston, Bart Barrell, Richard Durbin, Jane Rogers and David Bentley succeeded in obtaining a 50 million pound grant from the Wellcome Trust to start up a new institute to sequence the genomes of model organisms and to apply the experience gained to start on the human genome.  The Hinxton site was identified and the old building converted and Bart and Marie-Adèle moved to the Sanger Centre in Hinxton in 1993.

Bart & Marie-Adèle formed a team sequencing the yeast genome and once that was completed, with the experience gained, Marie-Adèle played a vital role in obtaining a multi million pound grant from the EU to sequence the fission yeast genome.  She ran a consortium of 30 European groups to complete the genome and using the same formula obtained more EU grants to start sequencing the Leishmania genome and the Dictyostelium genome both of which she led.

After the model organism sequencing Bart set up the Pathogen Sequencing Unit in 1997 and Marie-Adèle headed the Pathogen Informatics Group with a team of programmers working on sequence assembly, sequence analysis and databases.

She is an author of over 40 scientific papers and this year became the 10th most cited Microbiologist in the world - quite a feat given that she is not a microbiologist!

Marie-Adèle's hobbies were teaching aerobics and running.  She was a fully trained aerobics instructor and taught classes twice a week for free for 15 years first at the Frank Lee Centre at New Addenbrookes and then at the Sanger Centre only giving it up as her illness began to emerge in 2007.

Marie-Adèle & Bart moved in together in early 1995 and first lived in Saffron Walden before coming to live in Sewards End 10 years ago.  She loved living in the country and looked forward to being a country lady in her old age.  

Sadly, they were not able to have children, but Marie-Adèle enjoyed being a stepmother to Jamie and William who she had known from a young age and delighted in seeing her nephew, Nathan, grow up.

Her life was cruelly cut short when she was diagnosed with cancer in August last year and she was given only a year to live.  That was followed by three months of chemotherapy which made her very ill.  She was able to have a good Christmas and was able to return to work for six months.  She loved her work and it gave her the sense of normality that she craved.  In between she managed trips to Holland and enjoyed seeing her friends, going to exhibitions in Amsterdam and sightseeing, and going on lots of walks, generally walking Bart into the ground!

In April she was put on the drug Tarceva of which we had high hopes of it extending her life.  Unfortunately, it did not work and she suffered the side effects of the drug for nothing.  She declined any further chemotherapy so that she could enjoy her remaining time to the full.

Her life was further shortened in June when she was visiting the Netherlands to see family and friends when she suffered a pulmonary embolism and after two weeks she lost most of her mobility.  After spending a week in a Dutch Hospital she was air-ambulanced back to Cambridge and returned home from the Nuffield Hospital on Monday the 7th July.  She was surrounded by friends and colleagues all the week and impressed all the nursing staff by the way she rose above her illness and with her courage and warmth and beauty.  Although bedridden she was working with colleagues at her bedside up until the day before she died.  She died at home on Saturday evening the 12th July at 9pm.  She was only 44.

Before she was hospitalised she had a good last holiday in Amsterdam and managed to do all the important things she that she wanted to do.  She went on lots of boat trips, saw all her friends and had a wonderful holiday in Texel, the largest Dutch Island and had the most memorable meal there.  She was sad to see Holland for the last time but she wanted to come back to England where her life was.

Marie-Adèle and Bart were married in Saffron Walden and had their blessing here in the church on her birthday in January this year after she had got through the difficult time of chemotherapy.  It was obvious to all how much Marie-Adele and Bart loved each other.  They were together all the time, working closely together and spending all their spare time together.  They had found true love and their time together was the happiest of their lives.

© Barclay Barrell 2014