February 2017: Oleksandr Obrosov

The commitments we make can lead us to unanticipated destinations. Few in the Department may know this better than Alex Obrosov, research associate in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. After moving from Kiev, Ukraine, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to work in the laboratory of his aunt, Dr. Irina Obrosova-Ross, he had no idea that decision would eventually bring him to Iowa City, Iowa.

The only child of a teacher and a small business owner, Mr. Obrosov often visited his aunt in her laboratory in Kiev. Despite that strong influence toward biochemistry, he pursued computer science at Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute, the largest and oldest technical university in eastern Ukraine, founded by Dmitri Mendeleev himself. Though his preference for computers was not strong enough to resist the pull of medical science. “I became interested in computer modeling of disease processes,” he says. “I wanted to write my own program.” In the last year of his studies, Mr. Obrosov worked as a research associate in a biochemistry laboratory at the Palladin Institute of Biochemistry in Kiev, getting involved in experiments and engineering computer programs designed to analyze lab data and make predictions about how disease can progress.

A year later, he joined his aunt in Baton Rouge at the Pennington Biomedical Research Institute. Dr. Obrosova-Ross had been in the United States since 1994, in St. Louis and at Michigan, among many institutions, before Louisiana State University. Mr. Obrosov and his colleagues aided in her research into diabetic neuropathy, its pathogenesis, and potential therapeutics. They were productive, making real discoveries, publishing five articles in high-impact journals like Diabetes and Endocrinology in 2012 alone. And then, in December of that year, Dr. Obrosova-Ross passed away at the age of 56.

obrosov-feb-2017Mr. Obrosov’s aunt left behind a strong network of fellow researchers ready to pick up where she left off. Dr. Mark Yorek, Associate Chief of Staff for Research at the Iowa City VAMC and Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism, was one of those intermural associates. Dr. Yorek assumed the Principal Investigator role on the remainder of Dr. Obrosova-Ross’s NIH grants, transferring her laboratory—including Mr. Obrosov and two other research assistants—to Iowa. Dr. Yorek was grateful for these researchers’ ability to maintain continuity. “With Alex’s help and determination,” Dr. Yorek says, “we were able to complete and publish (Dr. Obrosova-Ross’s) work.”

Mr. Obrosov is now considering working on his doctorate with the Palladin Institute of Biochemistry in Kiev. “I am not going to leave (Iowa City). I’ll go there for some exams, show my mentor what I have done here, how it’s going. I don’t want to lose time, because I can do it together,” he says, slapping his hands to punctuate the idea.

Those who have been fortunate to work with Mr. Obrosov are glad he will be around for a good while longer. Researcher Lawrence Coppey says, “He is diligent and takes his responsibilities quite seriously. And he is always in an upbeat, positive mood.” Another colleague, Eric Davidson, cites that same sense of humor: “He has taken to wearing a cowboy hat while doing Western blotting, a hat which he stores on a large can covered with a picture of Clint Eastwood’s face from High Plains Drifter. The composite of cowboy hat, lab coat, and accent . . . now that’s FUNNY!”

Research associate Hanna Shevalye has worked with Mr. Obrosov for five years since he came to Baton Rouge. “It’s been a great pleasure to watch him grow professionally.” She is impressed by his never-ending enthusiasm for the work. “He is constantly looking for ways to improve the workflow in the lab. It may be a simple repair of a broken piece of equipment, or modifying some steps in lab protocols (without reducing the quality), but at the end it works for everybody’s advantage.”

When he’s not in the lab, Mr. Obrosov likes to play and watch soccer, follow Iowa football and basketball, and plan his next vacation. In an attempt to get to know his adopted country, he and two other friends recently drove through 15 states in 12 days. Colorado was one of his favorites. “The nature was really great. I’d never been so high up above sea level.”

Like everyone else that is lucky enough to know him, Dr. Yorek is glad that Mr. Obrosov will be sticking around. “I was very pleased when Alex decided to stay on in my laboratory. I know his aunt would be proud of him.”

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