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In memoriam: Alexander Kurosky

Mar 8, 2022, 07:33 AM by John E. Wiktorowicz, Ph.D.

In Memoriam: Alexander Kurosky, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

A Personal Note

Last Tuesday, March 1st, my dear friend and mentor, Alex Kurosky, Ph.D., passed away after many months of hospitalizations and critical care. At this time, I know I reflect the deep sorrow of the former members of the Biomolecular Resource Facility and we offer our heartfelt sympathy to his family who cared for him during these long and difficult times.

Alex was a mentor to many students and colleagues, always willing to spend as much time as was needed to consult and guide them in their science and careers, often contributing his resources to assist them when in need—his ethos will continue to guide many of us, long after this farewell.

I was one of many who enjoyed Alex’s company, his humor (in particular, his love of puns), and his consideration of others. As a graduate student, I first met Alex a few years earlier. At that time, he was an Assistant Professor in the department (Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics). In addition to his groundwork on cholera toxin biochemistry, he provided a protein analytical laboratory to other members of the department, and indeed the UTMB research community.

I availed myself of this latter resource to perform deep analysis of hexosaminidase (hex) and its isoforms, the absence of which leads to Tay Sachs and Sandoff’s disease in infants and toddlers. In one part of my research, I had observed that its substrates were structurally similar to a well-characterized enzyme, lysozyme, and wondered with Alex about how we might go about investigating hex’s active site as an interesting study in protein evolution. Reflecting his deep knowledge of protein biochemistry, Alex suggested that a recent paper on the synthesis and study of the active site of lysozyme using an irreversible inhibitor might just be the tool to use. Despite my trepidation in learning the chemistry necessary to synthesize this inhibitor, Alex encouraged me, and introduced me to the labs at UTMB that might assist me. Without going further into the story, I eventually succeeded and indeed performed the chemistry and enzyme kinetics to confirm my hypothesis.

This story, however, demonstrates how willing to listen and engage with colleagues Alex was, even upstart new graduate students, and his willingness to use his resources to assist in their development.

Our collaboration and friendship grew over the decades, long after I had left UTMB. Nevertheless, Alex was always available for a phone call to discuss my science as well as his. We would always find a way to meet at various conferences over the years to catch up (or has he often joked, "ketchup") on our various activities, usually ending with a wine and dessert-gifted dinner. This all culminated after a presentation I made at the First International Proteomics Conference when he approached me to once again collaborate with him and the team of UTMB colleagues he assembled for a recent NHLBI RFP that focused on the new field of proteomics that required new technology for a conforming proposal. After success in its funding, he convinced me to bring my technology to UTMB, and to help him administer the multi-million dollar NHLBI contract—which later was renewed under full competition for another round of funding.

So with his passing, I’m saddened with the loss of my dear friend Alex, but buoyed by the knowledge that his legacy and memory lives on in the many colleagues he guided, assisted, and mentored over the decades of his distinguished professional career. Many of us have internalized his ethos and "pass it on" to those whom we guide, assist, and mentor—all in memory of Alexander Kurosky, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, UTMB.

John E. Wiktorowicz, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer InnovaRegi, LLC

Adjunct Professor Dept. Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
The University of Texas Medical Branch