Petar Alaupovic, Ph.D., became a scientist by accident. The line to enroll in the chemical engineering program was shorter than the line for medical school. As he waited, sweating in the bright sunshine at his university in 1940s Yugoslavia (now Croatia), a friend urged Alaupovic to join him in the shorter line to beat the heat.
That simple line change would change the course of Alaupovic’s life.
Today, Alaupovic marked 50 years of service at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Known affectionately at OMRF as “Dr. A,” he has spent more than half his life studying lipoproteins, compounds that carry fats and cholesterol in the blood.
He’s one of the pioneers in this mind-bogglingly complex area of research, and his work in the field continues today. At 87, he still runs a laboratory, collaborates with scientists around the world and makes contributions to the scientific literature.
“Petar Alaupovic helped put OMRF on the map in the 1960s and ‘70s with his groundbreaking work,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “At a point when most scientists have hung up their lab coats, he’s still in the lab every day, still making discoveries and asking questions. It takes a special kind of person to remain so focused and stay so in love with his work.”
In high school, Alaupovic studied philosophy, history, literature and the arts. He spoke six languages, developed a deep love for opera and became Yugoslavia’s rowing champion, which put him on track to represent his country in the Olympics. But World War II snuffed out his Olympic aspirations and made even daily life difficult.
Alaupovic knew that education was the key to success, and despite the struggles he faced in war-torn Europe, he managed to earn his degree in chemical engineering. To pay his tuition, he played the saxophone in a jazz band at the local radio station. He and his friends idolized American jazz musicians and tried to mimic their sound. But it was science not music that brought him to the US, where he found his calling in research.
In 1960, Alaupovic moved his family to Oklahoma City and joined OMRF’s scientific staff. There, he set to work forging a career studying lipoproteins, a group of proteins that play important roles in heart disease, diabetes and stroke. His subsequent contributions to science garnered worldwide attention, and his naming and classification system for lipoproteins was adopted by scientists and physicians around the world in 1972. It is still used today.
Alaupovic has lectured throughout the world and received numerous honorary degrees and awards during his illustrious career. And he continues to serve as head of OMRF’s lipid and lipoprotein laboratory.
“My health is really good, and I can still get up early in the morning, work until 7:00 in the evening and enjoy it,” he said. “This path is not for everyone, but I can’t think of anything more exciting.”