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Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Leonard Barasa

Friday, March 22, 2024

Each month the BMB Department features a department member's unique story.

This month, Haley sat down with Leonard Barasa, an Instructor in the Thompson Lab. Read on to learn more about Leonard's life and the unique perspectives he brings to UMass Chan.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Western and Rift Valley parts of Kenya. My early childhood upbringing was in Western where I lived with my parents and started my schooling. In my fourth grade I moved to live with my uncle who at the time had a home in the Rift Valley parts of Kenya. This is where I completed my primary education and joined high school in the same region. Upon completion of my secondary education, I qualified to join university and got admission to Egerton University to major in Mathematics and Chemistry, located in Nakuru city in Kenya. After graduating, I moved to Nairobi, the capital city of Nairobi, where I worked for some time and decided to enroll for Master of Science degree in Chemistry, at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

In addition to schooling, both my parents and relatives used to practice farming, especially cattle, corn, sunflower and coffee farming. Taking care of farm produce as well as grazing of the cattle was part of the responsibilities while growing up.

What led you to a career in science?

My interest in science started when I was in sixth grade. One of the subjects I used to perform extremely well was science and agriculture. I could relate the teachings and what used to surround me while growing up. The school used to have a garden for farming, and I recall being assigned as the prefect in charge. This is where I did my first plant grafting that involved an orange seedling and lemon. In addition to my doing well in sciences, I used to perform well in Mathematics too. The funny thing is that I used to be one chapter ahead in the class. I could reach out to my friends who were one grade ahead of me to teach me the topics they had already covered. Personal attributes such as desire and interest to want to know more drove me into a science career.

In high school, I chose to pursue sciences in addition to other subjects, that prepared my foundation for what I am doing now. The love for science got me admission at Egerton University and at the University of Nairobi, and later joined the College of Pharmacy and Health sciences at St. John’s University, New York.

Why did you choose to come to UMass Chan and why did you choose to stay here? 

Upon graduating from the college of Pharmacy and Health sciences at St. John’s University, I wanted to move to a place where I could further my knowledge and skills in target-based design in the application of small molecules as a therapeutic strategy in addressing pathological cases. I did background search about potential places and happened to come across the Thompson lab that met the requirements of the place I was looking for. The lab combines both medicinal chemistry and chemical biology in the development of potent and selective inhibitors of enzymes whose activities are involved in autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases. In addition, the institution has the hospital section, which makes it even more compelling and attractive for bench to bed-side kinds of research. I am forever grateful to Dr. Paul R. Thompson for granting me an opportunity to work in his lab.

I chose to stay because the Thompson lab, the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology as well as UMass Chan Medical school is such an excellent place to be in terms of research development. The working environment is such an enabling in the advancement of one’s career. In addition, the university location is safe, and I haven’t heard any cases of insecurity for the time I have been around so far.

How would you spend your time if you never had to work again in your life? 

I rarely stay idle. If I never had to work again in my life, I would spend most of my time visiting places I have always wanted to, doing some reading here and there, and having fun in general, remember I am a soccer fan.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

I haven’t really travelled a lot to be able to make a definitive choice on this question. Maybe I might choose Davos in Switzerland. I have read about the city and makes me want to visit and have an experience of the “spirit of Davos”.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil? 

Would be a wooden spoon.