Mar 5, 2013
By Kristyn Repke
John Kopchick is a world-renowned molecular biologist known for his discovery of a compound that became the basis of a drug called Somavert. It treats acromegaly, a disorder causing the excessive growth of organs and bones that can lead to a premature death.
On March 18, Ohio University will honor Kopchick—Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar and professor of molecular and cellular biology—during the Distinguished Professor Reception and Lecture. The event begins at 7 p.m. with a reception in the Baker University Center Theater Lounge, followed by the Distinguished Professor introduction and portrait unveiling at 7:30 p.m. in the Baker University Center Theater. The event will conclude with Kopchick’s lecture, titled “Growth Hormone, Mini Mice, Football, Dirty Shorts and A New Drug.”
Compass sat down with Kopchick to learn a little about his academic history and future scientific plans
Compass: How does it feel to be named a distinguished professor?
It is an honor and privilege to know that your peers—that is, the previous distinguished professors—voted on me and found my credentials impressive enough to join their ranks. It is a very humbling honor.
Why should people come out and listen to your lecture?
I will tell the real journey of going from a basic discovery here at OHIO to the approval of a drug [Somavert] that is now used worldwide for patients with a condition called acromegaly. It was truly a bench-to-bedside journey. But it wasn’t an easy journey; there were many issues that needed to be addressed. Many times the project nearly failed. In my lecture I’ll tell the story: the layman’s perspective of the discovery and how it went on to become a drug. It will not all be heavy-duty science. It is going to be light. There will be some funny things, some truthful funny things, in the presentation.
How did you decide to become a professor instead of taking a different occupation within the science field?
When I earned my Ph. D and finished my post-doctoral studies at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in New Jersey, I did not go directly to academia; I worked at Merck & Co. in New Jersey. I did well there and we had a really great research group. At one point, a headhunter called and asked me if I would be interested in an academic position. OHIO had an endowed position called the Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology. After several trips and conversations with Dr. Charles Ping, who was the president of Ohio University at the time, I was offered the job and gladly accepted.
What is the key to your success?
I try to be upbeat and courteous to everyone. It doesn’t take very much energy to be nice. Also, it’s a privilege to be in the academic business, especially as a faculty member. Anyone in academia, whether as a student, faculty, or even a distinguished professor, is on a constant quest for knowledge. That is why we are here. What better job is there than being able to interact with young people in the search for basic knowledge?
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The discovery of the compound that is now a drug is one; meeting many colleagues and friends is the other. During this journey, I’ve come to know scientists and clinicians, research doctors and medical doctors worldwide. I’ve been able to observe their approaches to biomedical research, their methods in dealing with people and their styles of communicating results. It has been a great ride.
What projects are you currently working on and what projects do you have in store for the future?
My project is a continuum. We study molecular aspects of growth, obesity, diabetes and aging. These four areas are interconnected and we’re trying to figure out the molecular connections. Thankfully, we are now beginning to understand some of those relationships.
Is there anything else that you would like to tell the University community?
The learning process is a continuum. You don’t wake up one day and say, “I’m a distinguished professor; I don’t need to learn anymore.” In fact, one needs to learn more and more as one progresses up the academic ladder. Learning doesn’t stop when you get your degree. It starts when you get your degree. For every promotion, there is a commencement of learning.
About the Award
The Distinguished Professor Award is the highest distinction for faculty members at Ohio University. Established in 1958 by Edwin and Ruth Kennedy as a designated component of the John C. Baker Fund, the award recognizes exceptional research and scholarly or artistic achievements. Since the award’s inception, it has been understood that recipients also must be conscientious teachers.