Dr. Alaa El Husseini October 21, 1962 - December 23, 2007
About Alla

Professor Alaa El-Din El-Husseini, scientist, teacher and mentor. Born Oct. 21, 1962, in Gaza, Palestine, and drowned while on vacation in Cuba, December 23, 2007.

Alaa was the second youngest of nine siblings; six brothers and three sisters. His father Abdul Salam El-Husseini, a very renowned family in Palestine migrated from Jerusalem to Gaza after 1948. He passed away when Alaa was only five years old. Alaa was then raised largely by his mother, Jamila Khalidi and his sister Aida and brother Adly. Mrs Khalidi struggled to raise the nine children as a single mother, but she was never relaxed until all her children completed their University education. She was known for her beautiful smile, and her patience; she sadly passed away in March 2008 a week after Alaa’s Memorial service.

Even as a child Alaa was always fascinated by nature; his younger sister Abeir remembers him walking her to and from school, always collecting beetles and other small creatures. Alaa spent the first 11 years of his life in Gaza, he adored the outdoors and the ocean. At an early age, he was very interested in Freedom, Peace and always thought that Science had a lot of hidden secrets.

Because of the difficult life in Gaza, Alaa, only 12 and the family moved to Cairo, Egypt where he completed high school and graduated with honours majoring in Biochemistry at Ain Shams University. He then worked for an oil company in the UAE, but after three years of hard work, he saved enough money so he can pursue his interests in science and moved to Winnipeg, Canada where his uncle, Dr. Musa Khalidi, was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Manitoba.

In 1993 Alaa received his MSc in Physiology from the University of Manitoba, working with Bob Shiu from whom he learned many of the techniques of molecular biology. His interest in the mysteries of the brain then led him to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada where he completed his doctorate in 1997 with Dr. Steve Vincent. He then undertook post-doctoral training at the University of California at San Francisco with David Bredt. Here Alaa began to make a name for himself as a rising star in the field of synapse development and neuronal plasticity.

Alaa returned to UBC in 2001 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Brain Research Centre, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2006. He was an outstanding scientist and mentor, holding Scholar Awards from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the EJLB Foundation, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and he was appointed a UBC Distinguished University Scholar in 2002. Dr. El-Husseini was recognized internationally for his research into how the synaptic connections between the nerve cells of the brain develop and he actively collaborated with scientists across Canada, and around the world. Alaa El-Din anglicized is Aladdin, and those who saw Alaa in the laboratory often joked that he must indeed have had a genie in a magic lamp to make his experiments work so well. His work has led to important new understandings of human disorders including Huntington’s disease and autism.

Alaa’s research was featured in a documentary series on expatriate Arabic scientists on El-Jazeera television in 2005. This led to an invitation from her highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned to join the Qatar Foundation to bring together outstanding Arab scientists from around the world to advance research and development in the Arab World. Alaa never forgot where he came from, and when this opportunity came, he accepted with open arms. He thought this would be the chance to give back to the Arabic community and help other scientists help their countries with their research.

Alaa especially enjoyed the opportunities that science provided him to work with people from all over the world and from a variety of cultures. He always had a warm and welcoming smile that immediately captured everyone he met. People would always be surprised that such a modest, and fun-loving guy was at the same time an accomplished and respected scientist. He loved the sun, beaches, music, painting, skiing, cooking, reading, and outdoor activities. He especially enjoyed vacationing in the south Okanagan, where the warm desert climate in some ways reminded him of his childhood in Gaza.

Shortly after his return to Vancouver, Alaa met his love, Andrea, herself a new immigrant from Hungary. Alaa encouraged Andrea to continue her education, and pursue her career as a nurse here in Vancouver. He proposed to her on the beach in Hawaii this past summer, and together they were planning their wedding when tragedy struck.

Alaa always raced against time, he was an Ambassador to Canada and Palestine because his travelling to different countries, giving talks about his research, doing various collaborations with scientists from across the globe helped put his name on the map.

To his students, friends and colleagues Alaa was an inspiration, his constant smile and joy in life were contagious. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues around the world.