A young girl wakes up and looks out her bedroom window to see a summer garden graced with apple and cherry trees and overflowing with pansies. But the view from another nearby doorway was a sad contrast. Next to a bright vista of vibrant lilacs and tea roses lay her ailing grandmother, stricken and dying of cancer. Thirteen year old Liubov (Luba) set about her daily caretaking tasks of administering injections and bathing with an even temperament, always satisfied when she saw relief coming to her Grandma. Luba persevered until her grandmother succumbed to the disease, as this was an incurable case.
It was a task well done, and the experience forever changed her life.
Born in 1949 to a former military officer who became a teacher at a military college and a lovely Russian woman with Polish and Baltic roots, Luba grew up in the Ukraine. As a young girl, she was fond of visiting a local youth center that encouraged a variety of activities including art, dance, and sports. Luba had dreams of being a poet or a writer, performing in the theater or a choir, or perhaps becoming an artist.
However, her experience caring for her grandmother changed these dreams dramatically and immediately. Her dreams of the arts were no longer there. Instead, she was researching, thinking, and dreaming of medicine. It was an exciting time in the scientific world. Biology and genetics research were popular and there was a competition for cancer research. And the fields of molecular biology and genetics were ready to explode with findings.
At the university, she found the study of microbiology closest to her vision. She was already conducting research by the end of her second year of study. Her third, fourth, and fifth years were filled with microbes and research, her focus often kept her happily in the laboratory 24 hours a day. She received her first scientific direction, when her professor assigned her the task of studying bacteriolytic enzymes’ actions against staphylococcus. For this and associated studies, Luba received first place in Student Research at the Kiev Institute of Microbiology and Virology’s special conference for young researchers. Luba continued to pursue this area of research as a PhD student at the age of 21.
Then, Luba met Genia, a young professor of Polish/Bulgarian roots, dynamic, volatile, charismatic, extremely attractive and brilliant. They were instantly, profoundly in love. After her PhD studies, Luba became an assistant professor with emphasis in the biotechnology of bacteriolytic enzymes at Moscow University, the most prestigious in this field.
However, there was a sudden proliferation of biotechnical facilities in the Soviet Union. At one particular facility in the Ukraine, where Luba had sent students to work, Luba and Genia seized an opportunity to work in exciting areas of research, together. And what a team, they were. Responsible for approximately 3000 staff members, Genia was Vice President of Research and Development and Luba headed up a group of laboratories and 300 employees including Control labs and Scientific Research. The young enthusiastic staff tirelessly fueled research with a fresh approach to problems. The applications for the biotechnology ranged from oil and gas to food applications, agriculture and medicine.
Working at the biotechnology facility provided Luba with a broad range of experience. Not only was she responsible for the microscopic level of study, but she was also responsible for working with the pilot plant and scaling up production for literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of something that started growing in a petri dish.
The two main fields of long term study in Soviet biotech facilities were the genetic engineering of interferons and the scaling up of production and the study of microbial cell wall fragments.
Under the direction of Genia and Luba, the facility thrived. They even organized educational programs for all of the workers so that each person knew the context of their job and what their hard work did towards the progress of these complex projects.
They were happy and contented in their hard work and received many awards and commendations for their achievements. In 1985, they were awarded the Medal for Genetic Engineering Interferon Technology, the same year that Eli Lilly started its production. The global scientific community was not interacting, so every country was working to develop interferon on their own.
Meanwhile, there was also the ongoing study of the microbial cell wall fragments. They were especially interested in Lactic Acid Bacteria. There were many areas of development and application set forth for study. The best prospects for many applications were bacteria from natural sources, especially cultured milk isolates. Many strains came from Bulgaria. This was the beginnings of probiotics.
But they needed something other than live cells. They needed to find molecules which provide comparable efficacy for use in a broad spectrum of healing. Much study was done in the identification of molecules and their chemical structure. It was a more difficult program than the interferon project.
Then in 1988, Luba’s world was to have another sweeping change. Luba and Genia worked as a fine tuned machine, Genia was the brain and Luba was the implementer. When a long time director of the facility retired, Genia was considered for the job. Although brilliant, Genia self admittedly was not a good manager or businessman. In reality, at the facility, it was in fact Luba who did most of the administrative work in his behalf. The new director was to be chosen by free election.
On May 5th, Genia, just returning home from a meeting concerning the directorship and election, felt some discomfort in his heart area. They went to the emergency room, but the doctor said to return the next day to do a test. The next day, they tested Genia, gave him a room so that he would be there for additional tests and to make sure that he would indeed rest. Luba went home to gather some personal items for Genia and was gone only 20-30 minutes. Upon her return, as she approached Genia’s room, the doctor, standing next to the door, closed it. Something very bad had happened. As they had proceeded to take a routine blood sample from Genia, a blood clot went to his brain and he had died.
Luba was crushed, the whole community was in shock. Everyone loved this honest, truthful, creative man. The funeral was attended by thousands.
At the facility, Luba occupied both positions for awhile. Her mother came and stayed with her for two years. Finally, a new director came, conditions deteriorated, and everything changed, not for the better.
After surveying potential positions and taking into consideration her children, Luba was sought out by the National Technical University in Kiev. The local Ukrainian branch of the Medical and Biotechnology Ministry invited Luba to join them and give her the directive to organize Biotechnology Education for the Ukrainian Branch of Education. Her 11 years of experience uniquely qualified her for this task.
In 1991, The Ukraine became a republic. There were 11 states with universities and Luba worked in parallel with each institution from 1996-2002 and within these six years, made a Biotechnology degree official and accepted by the government. She was Dean and Founder of the Biotechnology program.
By 2002, Luba was Dean and Head of Educational Biotechnology Council under the Minister of Education. Her extensive experience gave her the highest vision of potential for this program and her goal of a comprehensive and integrated curriculum. She networked with lots of departments of higher education and other governmental agencies, such as the Ministry of Science, to create the best program possible.
Her primary interest remained with Lactic Acid Bacteria, and her students in this field of study are spread throughout the university systems and also in the Institute of Infectious Disease. Also, many of her colleagues continued to be involved with the study of Cell Wall Fragments of Lactic Acid Bacteria.
In 2001, Luba was invited to a meeting in New York City concerning a negotiation that some of her St. Petersburg colleagues were having for the use of Cell Wall Fragments as a nutritional supplement. Although the meeting was not productive, Luba still considered it a good opportunity to be potentially involved in something at a higher level. Although her colleagues in St. Petersburg shared no further information and she had no direct knowledge of dealings in the US market, she nevertheless had some pieces of information. Regardless, she continued to work in her program.
In 2005, Luba received a letter from an American, John Sichel, a retired pharmacist, health enthusiast, and entrepreneur. John had also attended the 2001 meeting in New York City. He asked to see her in August.
So, mid August, John Sichel came to Kiev. They worked hard in the lab to find answers for John’s questions, and at one point decided to take a break. John was an avid student of WWII history, so, an outing to visit a museum in Kiev was the perfect choice. They spent 3-4 hours together at the museum in a beautiful summer setting. Although a new relationship was not a priority for Luba, she found John quite charming. Then unexpectedly, in the shadow of a statue representing the Motherland and amidst an assemblage of tanks and guns, he put his hand gently on her knee and asked, “Would you marry me?”.
A quite comfortable, warm and native feeling came over Luba and something inside her clicked, “Why Not?” she replied.
By October, she was in the United States on a 5 year visa arranged through her university. She spent one month in Boulder, John’s home and location of his business. They also visited Vivolac Cultures Corporation in Indiana and met Dr. Sing for the first time.
They decided that they could be together.
In 2006, Luba resigned. This time period was difficult and painful for Luba. There were many problems such that at times, she never thought she would actually be able to leave. She found tremendous cultural changes moving to the US, but she also found freedom and opportunity to work and focus on the areas that are of most interest to her, a new chance to expand her vision and express herself.
With her new pursuit of the formation of Mirim Biologics as a platform from which to offer this healing technology to the world, both as a nutritional supplement and as immune supportive ingredients in functional foods, she feels as though life has moved her to be right here; she has a new context in life.
And, as she comments as she walks through the halls of the laboratory and manufacturing facility at Vivolac, and breathes in the familiar fragrance of media and agar, “I am at home”.