Comments from Friends and Loved Ones

May his memory be a blessing

I know this is quite late but I would like to express my condolences on the passing of your father, Norm Radin.

The website that you have created in his memory is really beautiful.

I collaborated with Norm after he invented his PDMP compound and together we got an NIH Small Business grant for my company, BIOMOL Research Labs, to synthesize better and more potent analogs of PDMP.

This resulted in a new compound called PPPP.

I very much enjoyed collaborating with him. Apparently he must have felt the same way because he mentioned my name and our joint work in his autobiography.

His autobiography made for some very enjoyable reading. Apparently we had a lot in common – we both started in the field of chemistry at an early age with a home chemistry lab.

May his memory be a blessing.

Warm regards


Robert  Zipkin, Ph.D.

Great Humanitarian Scientist

I only recently learned of your father's passing. Being sentimental by nature, I was deeply touched and felt it would be important to convey my condolences to you and your sister.

I did my post-doc with Norm from June, 1970 to May, 1973. I could spend hours writing an anecdotal history of the many learning opportunities your father provided to me. I'll spare you the details and instead, simply tell you that in contrast to our very different personalities (e.g., I loved football, he loathed football), he was the ideal mentor - always respectful, thoughtful, thought provoking, humorous, and kind. His penetrating questions were never delivered with sarcasm. If I fumbled for an adequate answer he patiently guided my line of thought. His science was impeccable and intense. His satisfaction in a new idea, or successful experiment was conveyed with enthusiasm. All of this magnified several fold the impact of the smile he gave when his dry wit pulled-off the perfect pun or dicey joke.   

Your dad was the epitome of what I call a great humanitarian scientist.

I trust that you and Laurie find great comfort in knowing that he is profoundly loved and respected by so many.

With sympathy and warmest regards,

David Ullman

Close to being brothers

Norm and I were as close to being brothers as one can imagine for 40 years. We met at scientific meetings, and shared an interest in the human brain and had each performed research on animal brain lipid metabolism, were both gadgeteers, and shared a similar sense of humor. What a stroke of luck that I convinced him to leave Chicago for Ann Arbor in 1960. I have read his autobiography, now on his website, and am probably one of a small number people who will read the 74 pages again and again. I'm calling it The Norm Radin Chronicles. The document comes as close as I can to being with Norm one more time.

In it, he describes meeting in Ann Arbor in 1960, in which I try“selling”him on its charms. I made the error, which he describes in The Chronicles, of offering him a taste of a favorite Michigan soft drink, Vernor's Ginger Ale. This drink can make you sneeze and/or cough, because of a high ginger content, and probably needs to be imprinted at an early age. He hated it. Fortunately, Norm nevertheless decided to move here and in the end, concluded it had been a wise choice (p. 59). It was also a very fortunate decision for all of who knew and worked with him. He enriched our lives.

I am sorry not to have met Hollis, Florence or Jesse, and my wife Ricky and I offer our sincere sympathy, also to you Lon, Laurie and Max.

Norm was one of a kind.

Bernie Agranoff

Memories of a cousin

Dear Lonnie,

 Your dad and sister Ruth were my mother Rose Packman's first cousins. My grandmother Clara Rosengarden and your Grandmother Bertha Radin were sisters along with Becky Stolowitz (Stoll).

I remember some stories about him: His parents let him be scientific in the cellar of their house even though he managed to blow a few things up while working on his experiments.

He came to our house one day when I was little and he brought some clay that he let me play with. It was very pliable. Except that it wasn't clay;  it was plastic explosives.

He played the piano so exquisitely. He heard a piece of music and immediately was able to play it. It was wonderful listening to him. Even more, I remember all his efforts through the years to find a cure for the cancer that killed your mother. Sometimes he would explain it to me and very occasionally I sort of understood.

The last thing he tried to do was to help me find some information about our family on my mother's side which meant your grandmother, also. He sent us a memoir by Nate that was more like a medical history. Poor Nate.

Most importantly, he loved his family.

We would like to make a donation in honor of his life. Did he have a special charity? Where do you live so that we can send the charity the information by which they would inform you.

We are so sorry. We wish you and all your family our deepest condolences.

Phyllis Packman Rudnick

February 11, 2013

Scientist's scientist

Dear Lon, I am very sorry about your loss; your Dad was a great man and a wonderful scientist, and I am sure a great parent.

I did not get a chance to work with Norm directly, but we did interact over the years. Actually, we did maintain a correspondence after his retirement; he would read up on something or figure out some new problem and then shoot me an email telling me about it and asking what I thought and if someone could pursue it. He was very original and innovative and quite thoughtful. 

He was also the scientist's scientist; always enthusiastic and committed to the science. 

He will be sorely missed as  a giant in the field of glycosphingolipids.

My sincere condolences 


Yusuf A Hannun, MD

Director, Stony Brook Cancer Center

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Mentor in the United States

It is my grief to hear that your father Norman Samuel Radin has passed away on last month January 21st. I would like to send my letter to Norm in heaven.

Dear Dr Radin, my mentor in the United States

I joined Norm’s Lab at University of Michigan, as a post-doc in the summer of 1985. Dr Kishimoto, who was a professor of Johns Hopkins University and an early member of Norm’s Lab in 1970’s, recommended me to go Ann Arbor. Norm asked me to synthesize a prototype of glucosylceramide synthase inhibitor, PDMP (mixture of four steroisomers) and separate the optical isomers to identify active form. After fighting for 6 months to isolate the optically pure isomer, I was able to demonstrate that only D-threo (1R., 2R) form was the active isomer in Journal Lipid Research in 1987. This is my first paper in this research field. So, Norm, you are the true mentor for my present research career.

10 years ago, I visited your place Palo Alto and stayed in your apartment for 3 nights. We enjoyed walking, talking, dinner and visiting your son Lon house. I remember the tastes of well cooked eggs (scramble or sunny side up?) banana and coffee in the morning. You gave me a Native Indian Sand Art, the article left by Norma. That picture was the dance of four Indians for curing any pains and ill. I keep this in my office. Now I recall these our happy memories.

I enjoyed very much our versatile scientific discussions over 25 years. I would like to continue my progress reports to you from deep in my heart.



Feb. 9th, 2013

Jin-ichi Inokuchi, Ph.D

Division of Glycopathology
Institute of Molecular Biomembranes and Glycobiology

Goodby to a wonderful friend

It is with great regret that I am not with you today to say goodbye to a wonderful friend, colleague, and mentor. Norm was all of these to me and to so many of his students, scientific collaborators, and admirers. Norm's death carries with it the inevitable grief that follows from such a loss and from the realization that there is now a void that can no longer be filled.  However, the rush of memories that follows from the loss of someone you love and respect helps to ease the pain. 

Life is full of random events, some of which lead to great fortune. For me it was the chance occurrence of getting on a bus for a hundred mile ride from Ann Arbor to Gull Lake for a weekend Cancer Center retreat. I sat next to Norm and we soon discovered a mutual scientific interest in lipids. Norm did most of the talking and I was an eager listener. I was immediately captivated by his scientific insights and knowledge of biochemistry and neurochemistry. The bus ride was followed by a weekend of long walks and meals discussing sphingolipids and their importance in human physiology and disease. The subjects were far ranging and at times what might have started as a discussion about the cellular biology of the brain or kidney quickly evolved into a larger debate over economics, politics, or religion. I will remember this as the best and most important two days of my academic career.

A scientific collaboration soon followed, although initially I was less of a co-investigator and more of a student. Norm had almost 50 years of experience studying sphingolipids and had defined many of the pathways that I had only read about in textbooks and review articles. His depth of knowledge was only exceeded by his boundless energy and enthusiasm for the science. Something must have rubbed off since the collaboration was very productive. 

One day, about a year after the bus ride, Norm shared with me the “pink sheet” on his NIH grant application. It read in part “this is an excellent proposal from a 70 year old biochemist…” Remarkably, his grant did not receive a fundable score. Rather than feeling bitter Norm said “I think I should close my lab and move into yours. Would that be okay?” It took all of one second to agree. For the better part of the next five years we worked side by side. This was a gift for which I will always be grateful.

Most of our work focused on a hypothesis that Norm proposed in 1971, the use of “synthesis inhibition” to treat a set of diseases in which sphingolipids accumulate in lysosomes. This included at least seven diseases with names such as Gaucher’s disease, Fabry disease, and Tay-Sachs. Norm’s idea, which was very novel at the time, was that instead of replacing the defective enzyme, the use of a drug that would block the synthesis of the accumulating sphingolipid would be more rational.

Norm had made some progress toward this goal with the identification of a compound called “PDMP” a compound that blocked glycolipid synthesis.  Ranga Vunnam was an important co-investigator in this early work. Jin-ichi Inokuchi had continued this project as a post-doc and later went on to pursue important studies in cancer and diabetes. Another post-doc, Akira Abe, stayed in Ann Arbor and continues this work even today. 

We decided to try to improve the drug making it more active and specific toward its intended target. This work progressed nicely and eventually resulted in a series of related compound that were very potent. After demonstrating that the newer drugs would work in an animal model of a lysosomal storage disease, we were able to license these compounds for clinical development to a biotech company, Genzyme. The drug that has evolved from Norm’s hypothesis is today called eliglustat tartrate and it works precisely in the manner that Norm proposed. Genzyme has pursued Norm’s synthesis inhibition theory with what has been the largest clinical trial for Gaucher disease ever conducted involving patients in thirty countries around the world. Coincidentally, the “pivotal” phase 3 trials demonstrating the clinical benefits of Eliglustat were reported publicly for the first time yesterday. Importantly, this drug appears to work better than current treatments and if approved, it should be substantially less expensive and more convenient. I am grateful that Norm was able to learn that his theory was proven to be true while he was still with us. I only wish that he were around to see this drug make its way through FDA approval and into routine clinical use.

I once asked Norm why he chose to study sphingolipids. He said that it was his goal in life to try to find ways to make people smarter as this would certainly make the world a better place. He went on to say that the basis for intelligence could undoubtedly be understood by figuring out the biochemistry and biology of sphingolipids since it was these compounds that comprised more than 15 percent of the weight of the brain. I challenged this idea by pointing out that there were over 300 different types of glycolipids alone, reflecting an incredible level of chemical complexity. He rebutted my point by reminding me that all of human knowledge could be communicated with only two materials, the cellulose that paper was made of, and the ink with which words were written. For Norm, sphingolipids were the ink and the glycolipids were the calligraphy that nature used to write the words.

Norm's goal of finding ways to make people more intelligent was laudable. Without doubt, if any of us could attain Norm’s level of intelligence, then we would be the better for it. But more important to me would be the ability to attain Norm's level of curiosity about life and his passion in finding the answers to those questions he thought were important. These qualities, as much as his intelligence, were what made Norm such a great scientist and such a remarkable individual. 

Norm, I cannot help feeling that at some point we will see each other again. When we do we will plan some new experiments and continue our debates. 

Jim Shayman (February 8, 2013)

A brave and caring human being

What a wonderfully kind and brave scientist he was and a Chicago typewriter style sense of humor to match. My life was greatly enhanced by meeting and being with Norman, particularly early in our relationship when my Mom was having a series of surgeries on her knee. Norman was always at her bedside, always no questions no anything. Just Norman being there for my mom day after day. I loved him for that and the way he increased all of our intellect and acumen by really challenging our brains with his ideas. I loved him very much and glad that I had a chance to know such a brave, and caring human being as Norman Radin. Norm, Rest in Peace my step-father and please look in on Lauren for me. 

best love, David  (originally posted on Norman's FaceBook page)

A Dear Colleague

Dear Lon,

I am very saddened to hear of your Dad's passing, as he was a dear colleague.  I wish your family well through this time of adjustment to his absence. 

Norm was a very special person, who contributed in myriad ways to the development and progress of lipid science, much of which went unrecognized as he helped so many young scientists, such as myself (when we met!), in endless discussions. Norm always gave of his intellect and time in an unselfish (and VERY honest) manner, and for this and his many contributions, he was highly respected in the field. I learned from his uncanny ability to analyze and be critical of the science being presented in whatever format was being offered: he taught me to be equally critical of my own work and that of others. The scientific community has lost a significant member, who will be remembered for his many seminal findings in glyco and sphingolipid biology, and his generous intellect. A part of Norm will always be with me and many of my colleagues.

My best to you and your family.
I hope to join you on Saturday.

Walt Holleran
San Francisco

Norm's Memorial

I'd like to thank everyone for their comforting words since my Dad passed away.

For those who are in the area, we will be having a memorial event at the Chateau Cupertino where he lived with Florence, on Saturday February 16 at 10:30 am.  The Chateau is located at 10150 Torre Avenue, Cupertino, CA 95014.    -Lon

© HBR 2015