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Nasonex is a popular and well-known nasal spray used to treat allergies and other respiratory symptoms. It was approved for production in 1999 and since then, it has brought in more than a billion dollars worldwide. Few people know that one of USD’s own was instrumental in creating this big-name brand.

Keith Nolop worked in researching and developing treatments for asthma and cancer. One of the many highlights in his career included a groundbreaking treatment for melanoma, a form of skin cancer. He also was a pioneer in developing cutting edge immunotherapies for treating cancer.

“When he was in college, we used to joke that he’s so smart, he is going to figure out a cure for cancer. It was amazing when this fantasy became a reality,” Bruce Nolop, Keith’s older brother, shared.

Keith loved the science behind the medicine and wanted to help those suffering from disease. Keith started his career at University of Louisville Hospital, followed by 11 years at Schering-Plough and then 13 years as chief medical officer for leading biotechnology companies, including CoTherix, Plexxikon, and Kite Pharma. Toward the end of his career, Keith was a consultant for pharmaceutical companies.

Tragically, Keith passed away in 2016 after being injured in a bicycle accident. His brothers, Bruce and Neil, along with other family members, decided to honor Keith’s life and legacy by creating the Nolop Institute for Medical Biology from his estate. Bruce said giving a flagship donation to USD made sense and is something he feels Keith would be pleased with.

Humble Beginnings

Keith Nolop was born in Minnesota, but grew up in Mobridge, South Dakota. He was intelligent, easily earning straight A’s. He exceled in the subjects of science and math and achieved the highest national merit score in South Dakota while in high school. Bruce describes him as a superior person with a superior mind.

When Keith began the process of deciding where to attend college, he was interested in becoming an engineer and considered attending the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

However, his parents encouraged him to think about studying medicine. This decision led Keith to the University of South Dakota in 1971 to begin earning his undergraduate degree in biology, which was also the beginning of the impact his life would have on others.

When Keith arrived at USD, he continued to earn straight A’s in his studies. During his time at the university, he was an editor for The Volante and an active member in Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He also explored his interest in music.

“Keith blossomed and became well-rounded and a better person,” Bruce explained.

Keith graduated from USD in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree and then went east to attend Vanderbilt University Medical School, where he was first in his class. He graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree and began his career in medical research and pharmaceuticals.

“Keith was a celebration of what an individual can do in the science field and contributing to society and humanity,” Bruce said. “He lived that dream.”

The Impact of Keith’s Life

Alex Bergeson is at USD studying medical biology and plans to attend medical school. At the moment, he is interested in studying orthopedic surgery, but is open to that changing. Bergeson grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota, and spent the majority of his summers participating in rodeo.

Bergeson’s interest in becoming a physician came from seeing his mother work as an occupational therapist, but also his time spent in the doctor’s office for various sports injuries. The doctors he worked with inspired him, and he said it helps that he enjoys studying science. But his career choice means giving a lot of his energy and time to preparing for medical school, instead of rodeo.

“Rodeo was always secondary when looking at colleges,” Bergeson said. “It was a hard decision, but I’m happy with my choice.”

Paula Mabee, Ph.D., has been a faculty member in the USD biology department since 1997. Like Bergeson, she is from Mitchell, South Dakota. Mabee completed her undergraduate studies in biology and religion at St. Olaf College, earned her Ph.D. in zoology at Duke University and completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Smithsonian Institution and Dalhousie University.

Mabee has received many honors and recognized nationally for her research. She conducts research in the area of developmental biology, focusing on how cells develop and become an organism, from humans to birds to fish. Her research has produced findings that are medically relevant and have been used to find the genes underlying diseases. Some of her research has even connected the sensory structures on fish to hair cells in the human ear, leading to investigations for human hearing defects.

Bergeson and Mabee are just two of the people that have been changed by Keith’s life.

Dr. Mabee received the Nolop Distinguished Professorship from the endowment, which she said is a huge honor and an award that will help her in her research.

“I feel really grateful for the freedom to pursue research and propose ideas that may be unconventional,” Mabee explained.

Bergeson is the first-ever scholarship recipient for the Nolop Institute Scholarship for Medical Biology, also funded through the endowment. When he looked where to complete his secondary education, USD was always in his top three. He was offered a scholarship to another university, but the full scholarship offer and undergraduate research position in the lab at USD tipped the scales for him.

“It allows me to fully participate in college without worrying how I’ll have to pay for it,” Bergeson shared.

Celebrating Keith’s Legacy

Keith was a pure scientist and Bruce believes he had the kind of career he dreamed of achieving. Before his passing, Keith started to get involved at USD, speaking at the Sanford School of Medicine, providing scholarship support to medical students and consulting with faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences on the creation of a biomedical engineering degree.

Bruce said in one of the last conversations he had with Keith, Keith shared that when he looked back on his life, he realized attending USD was the best decision for him on the path for his career.

“USD was the thing that allowed him to be successful and take advantage of opportunities because it gave him the self-confidence,” Bruce said.

The Nolop Institute for Medical Biology Endowment is Keith’s legacy, and he will continue to impact the world of medical research through its beneficiaries, like Bergeson and Mabee.

“Keith was a celebration of what an individual can do in the science field and contributing to society and humanity,” Bruce said. “He lived that dream.”

The Impact Lives On

The Nolop Institute for Medical Biology will have a far-reaching impact. Along with the scholarship program and professorships, the Nolop endowment also created the Nolop Family Research Laboratory, housed in Churchill-Haines Laboratories, and the Nolop Research Scholar Program. The lab is fully-equipped to support medically-oriented research, and the scholar program gives students the opportunity to work with faculty on research. It also funds research supplies and any necessary travel to present research. Thanks to the Nolop family, the field of research will reap the benefits and significantly shape the region and beyond, just like Keith did in his career.