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Star Gazer Sees Greater Realm in Proteins

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When Len Arnowitz looked up at the night sky, it fascinated him. “I was just in love with space,” he says. But how did that lead to becoming president of BSI Proteomics?

During his career in space, Arnowitz worked at NASA for more than 20 years and eventually became the chief of the special payloads division that allowed science experiments, including ones designed by schoolchildren, to fly on the space shuttle.

After NASA, he consulted for the Israel Space Agency. When he returned to the States, “I spoke with some friends of mine about what’s there that I could do something original on. They suggested I look at protein crystal growth; they said it had a lot of promise,” he recalls.

Arnowitz designed two experiments for the space shuttle and decided he wanted better equipment to grow proteins in space. “As I got working along that line, it occurred to me that there’s a lot of work to be done on the ground before we take advantage of the benefits of space.” Arnowitz and his wife Shirley founded BSI Proteomics in 1997. Funded entirely through NIH and NASA grants, the company has now started providing pharmas with crystals and protein structures.

The New Jersey native sees a clear link between space and proteomics. “When I was at NASA, we were building instruments which would do discoveries in astronomy, in terms of what’s out there. And here now, we’re doing discovery. We’re not going way out there, but we’re going inside of the little macromolecules that make up our bodies.”

While Arnowitz is “not sorry about” his years working at NASA, he does see more relevance in drug research than in astronomy. “What I really want to do is be part of coming up with an important medicine or a vaccine. When I’ve done that, I’ll feel like I can really step back and say, ‘Now that’s really something.’”

— Diana Jong

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