Loyalty is a factor often overlooked in the pursuit of scientific advancement. And yet in the case of some recent publications and discoveries emerging from the Department of Internal Medicine, loyalty among colleagues has made a large difference. Dr. Santosh Kumar, then a postdoctoral fellow in vascular biology, was on a holiday break between semesters at the University of Pittsburgh when his lab director, Dr. Kaiko Irani, told him he had accepted a position at the University of Iowa. Dr. Kumar remembers Dr. Irani describing Iowa as “the place where many of the best biologists were.” After this revelation, though, came Dr. Irani’s invitation to join him. “I said, ‘OK, give me two or three days.’”
Dr. Kumar was no stranger to big moves. After growing up in Bihar, an eastern state of India, Dr. Kumar moved north to New Delhi to pursue a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, to Ranchi for his master’s in pharmacology, and then back to New Delhi for his doctorate in cardiovascular pharmacology. As he neared completion of his PhD, a mentor gave him some career advice. He told Dr. Kumar that the degree was worthwhile for learning methodology, but a postdoc fellowship was where he would “learn the real science, how to originate my own project.” After turning down offers from a couple pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Kumar made his biggest move, from New Delhi to Pittsburgh.
Until that point, Dr. Kumar had been interested primarily in the physiology of cardiac function, the mechanics of the heart, and less so on the molecular level. “I found it more logical and rational. It’s working, it’s not working.” But after arriving at Pitt for his fellowship and beginning to work with Dr. Irani, he began to integrate what he already knew with previously unexplored elements within vascular biology. He focused particularly on the interaction of sirtuin1, an enzyme known for improving vascular function with the protein p66Shc, which promotes oxidative stress and contributes to a variety of complications related to diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cardiomyopathy. Dr. Kumar was making real progress. “We had some very exciting data.” Then, the Iowa offer came.
“I didn’t know where Iowa was,” Dr. Kumar laughs. “No clue at all. At first I confused it with Iowa State University in Ames. I looked on the website and thought, ‘Who is there?’” But once he was pointed to Iowa City and clicked around the correct webpages, his perspective quickly shifted. “It was really something cool. Big names . . . big papers. I thought, OK, we should definitely be there.” Four months later, it was just a matter of organizing a move, shipping mice, checking breed lines, packing boxes. The Irani lab barely missed a step. In January of this year, what started clear across the country in Pennsylvania resulted in an article published in PNAS; Dr. Kumar is first author. And the work continues. Dr. Kumar, now an Associate in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, is focusing on the tools to regulate p66Shc function, a relatively novel line of inquiry, while he works on grants to fuel the research.
The colleagues who work alongside Dr. Kumar are glad he made the choice to come to Iowa as well. “The best thing about working with him,” Dr. Ajit Vikram, Assistant Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, “is that he is calm. . . . I believe his devotion to work and an eye to the minute details make him successful at what he does.” Dr. Irani agrees, calling Dr. Kumar “a delight.” He says, “He is an unselfish, soft-spoken, ethical, very hard-working and devoted scientist. He is a team player who never refuses to lend a helping hand to his labmates.”
After four years in Pittsburgh, there are things that Dr. Kumar still misses: friends, neighbors, the Pirates. But overall he enjoys the pace of Iowa City and wishes they had come here sooner. “It’s easy, people talk to you, not much hassle.” He and his wife have just begun to explore the area with trips to Davenport where they were impressed with the Mississippi River and, most recently, to the Omaha Zoo, where they hoped to show their five-year-old son a baby elephant.