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Obituary: Colin Eugene Kluender, DBBS grad student, 26

Doctoral student remembered as brilliant, kind

November 16, 2021

Colin Eugene Kluender, a Washington University graduate student in his fourth year of the Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology Program in the Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences, died unexpectedly Nov. 4, 2021, in his hometown, Milwaukee. He was 26.

Kluender came to the university in 2018, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology and Spanish.

As a DBBS student, he worked in the lab of Jennifer Alexander-Brett, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine. His focus was on the contribution of cellular chaperones to inflammatory signaling pathways in chronic respiratory disease. His work recently was published in the journal JCI Insight, and he had been working toward an exciting follow-up publication.

“Colin was a brilliant scientist, performed impeccable work, and was a trusted colleague and loyal friend to many,” Alexander-Brett said. “We shared a passion for cool science, nature, social justice and local politics; he poured himself into each with unmatched intensity. I’ve never known a more kind and selfless person as Colin. I could always count on him to make a new addition to the group feel immediately at home, and he was always the first to volunteer to help someone in need. He will be so greatly missed by his research family.”

Tom Brett, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine, was his co-mentor. “Colin tirelessly pursued perfection and precision in every task set before him. He had a special blend of innate creativity, curiosity and intelligence,” Brett said. “He selflessly shared his talents and taught others in the lab how to do challenging tasks, including myself.”

Outside of his work as a budding scientist, Kluender was passionate about social justice, music, politics, animals and underdogs in general.

“Colin loved music, would travel hours to support a band he liked,” his brother, Chad Kluender said. “He was very politically active and cared heavily about shaping local politics to help those in need. He was definitely a lover of animals. Overall, Colin was just extremely generous with his time and cared deeply about the well-being of others. Truly just a kind, kind soul.”

He is survived by his parents, Steven and Shirley Kluender of Milwaukee; his brother, Chad, of Boise, Idaho; and several aunts, uncles, cousins, other relatives and friends.

His family held a funeral service Friday, Nov. 12, in Milwaukee.

His friends and mentors at Washington University are holding a memorial service from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at Holmes Lounge on the Danforth Campus. Those interested in attending can find more information and RSVP by visiting this link.

Memorial contributions may be made to Badger Recovery within University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin.

With the death of Kluender, a friend and colleague to many at the School of Medicine, university leaders want to stress that mental health support is available for students on the Medical and Danforth Campuses. Students on the Medical Campus may contact Student Health Services at 314-362-3523 or the Student Assistance Program (NexGen) at 800-327-2255, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students on the Danforth Campus may call 314-935-6695 at the Habif Health and Wellness Center. For faculty and staff, resources are also available.