Alejandro Duque, a master’s student in the University of Toronto’s Department of Medical Biophysics, died in a skimboarding accident at Lake Ontario on September 9. Duque, 25, is survived by parents Liliana Pinzon and Delio Duque.
During his undergraduate and graduate studies at U of T, Duque had been heavily involved in cancer research, as well as the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team.
He is remembered by researchers who had worked with him as energetic and hardworking, and by Varsity Blues athletes who had played alongside him as someone who always had their backs.
In an online statement, a lab representative who worked with Duque wrote to his parents, “The recent loss of your son Alejandro who left us all far too soon has left the Rottapel Lab paralyzed with grief.”
“In the short time he spent with our lab, he made such an impact, an impact that was larger than life. He will be sorely missed. We offer our sincere condolences and deepest sympathy on your loss.”
Before beginning graduate studies, Duque carried out cancer research in the laboratory of Dr. Donald Branch in U of T’s Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology. His direct supervisor was Dr. Anton Neschadim, CEO of ImmunoBiochem, a biotechnology company that sponsored Duque’s project in Branch’s lab.
In a joint statement, Branch and Neschadim described Duque as “an ambitious, fun and energetic young man that was friends with everyone in the lab and on the entire research floor.”
Branch and Neschadim also said that Duque was as “highly motivated and autonomous” as a research student, “bringing with him significant experience as a laboratory technician.”
Duque’s research focused on investigating the mechanism of action and pharmacology of biological products developed by ImmunoBiochem to evaluate their potential for use as part of new cancer treatments in oncological “disease areas where there is a significant unmet need.”
Duque wanted to leverage his experience to “generate an impact in oncology.” According to Branch and Neschadim, Duque had long-term plans of becoming a translational cancer researcher, aiming to bridge the gap between fundamental research and applied research.
Duque also did his undergraduate degree at U of T, completing a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in 2016.
During his undergrad, he was extensively involved with U of T athletics in the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team as a student. Following graduation, he worked as an assistant coach for the team.
Joe Nizich, the head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, recalled Duque’s contribution to the team from when he first started.
“When Al joined our team in 2011 coming out of Birchmount C. I., he had some difficulties adjusting to the university game,” Nizich wrote to The Varsity. “But he persevered and worked diligently to improve, to the point that Al earned the right to be one of our Captains his last two seasons. He would pump up a teammate if that player needed a boost of confidence or was just feeling down.”
“He was always the focal point of chatter in the team room,” continued Nizich. “As a coach, Al took it upon himself to run our off-season strength and conditioning program, encouraging players to get better. He was always available to help a player improve.”
“To me, he was the epitome of a Varsity Blues athlete.”
Gabe Lisus-Lean, Defensive Coordinator of the men’s lacrosse team, wrote that “Al will always be remembered as much more than a player and a coach by the UofT lacrosse program; he will be remembered as a brother.”
“His teammates who shared the field with him had his back unconditionally well beyond their playing days and the players he coached knew that they could lean on him for anything,” he continued. “Though his life was cut tragically short, he truly lived with an unbridled passion for everything he did. His memory and influence will forever live on in all that were lucky enough to know him.”
Editor’s Note (October 1, 3:19 pm): This article has been updated to correct Nizich’s name.