AOAC INTERNATIONAL’s president, Anthony (Tony) Lupo, is a scientist and manager who loves nothing better than moving methods from the lab into practical applications and whose vision for AOAC is to continue building on the “international” part of its name to make it ever more applicable to stakeholders throughout the world.
“It’s truly global—Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America,” he says. “So many professional organizations, if they are headquartered in the United States, have a U.S.-centric approach, but AOAC has always been very globally minded. [It] truly is an international organization.”
Lupo himself lives in a suburb of Lansing, Michigan, USA, where he works as senior director of technical services for NEOGEN, which makes food-safety-related test kits for clients around the world.
A lifelong Michigander, Lupo grew up in Detroit, where even as a child, he was fascinated with the practical aspects of science—so much so, he says, that his father would go to second-hand stores and bring him home old radios, TVs, or other appliances for him to disassemble and figure out their inner workings, in part to satisfy his curiosity but also to keep him from doing the same with more important things around the home.
From that beginning, he says, in a memory many AOAC members would recognize, he moved on to being “one of those kids in the basement with a chemistry set,” where they might, occasionally, have singed their eyebrows, experimenting more enthusiastically than might have been wise.
From there, he moved on to college at nearby Oakland University, where he majored in biochemistry with an eye to clinical and academic research in medical/veterinary testing. It was a field in which he worked for a few years after graduation, but there was a problem. He loved the research, but not the perpetual need to pursue grant funding for it. So, he looked for opportunities away from the grant-proposal treadmill and landed at NEOGEN.
It was a good match, he says, because while food safety was wildly different from anything he’d ever done before, food-testing used the same skills he’d developed in immunology and immunochemistry. A fast learner, he was quickly developing antibody-based test kits for food allergens, mycotoxins, and pathogens.
But again, there was just one problem. Developing a new method, he says, can be like having a child. But unlike a real child, which you can help raise to adulthood, this “child” is promptly whisked away into the real world, where methods fly or flounder without much input from the people who developed them. “You develop this great method, launch the product, and the ‘baby’ goes away and you never see it again,” he says. “I wanted to see how people use these methods.”
So, he shifted to the company’s technical services department, which he now leads. “[This] allows me to work in analytical methodology and validation and see the practical applications in the hands of our customers all over the world,” he says.
It also made him a natural for ever-deeper involvement in AOAC INTERNATIONAL. “Our customers buy a product to solve a problem,” he says. “So, a lot is predicated on our ability to demonstrate that our products are fit for purpose and that someone other than NEOGEN has blessed them.”
For that, he says, “AOAC is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, or the Consumer Reports Gold Star. It is necessary to demonstrate that these methods are effective and adhere to a global standard, and it’s not just ‘us’ saying so,” he says. In the process, he adds, he came to realize that AOAC’s role wasn’t to be the “fixer” of problems. It was there to ask questions and to provide the tools for methods developers to solve the problems themselves. It was an understanding that made him realize not just how important AOAC INTERNATIONAL is to his own company, “but throughout the world. Many of our customers look to AOAC as the beacon of truth when it comes to scientific information and standards development,” he says.
Which brings him back to his focus for his term as president. First off, he says, there is no need to rock the boat. “The direction of the organization is strong,” he says. His biggest goal is to capitalize on its momentum and find ways to package AOAC-approved methods that allow them to gain even wider acceptance in global venues outside of the United States, such as Codex Alimentarius. “I’ve begun a task force [on that] led by long-time AOAC supporter Darryl Sullivan [chief scientific officer with Eurofins],” he says.
Meanwhile, Lupo appears to be enjoying not just analytical chemistry, but life. His move from Oakland University to a suburb close to Michigan State University quickly made him a sports fan. “Oakland didn’t have a football team, and the basketball team was alright. We had a great swim team, but I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tailgate a swim team. It doesn’t get a lot of traction.”
With the Spartans ranked top-10 in both football and basketball, as of press time, Lupo is a proud “adopted” Spartan. “They got their hooks in me,” he says.
But he has another sport closer to his heart: one more akin to The Karate Kid than to football and basketball: Lupo holds a first-degree black belt in mixed martial arts. He got into it in his late 30s, he says, when he realized he needed some form of structured physical activity to counteract the effects of too much travel. “So I took a free introductory lesson,” he says. That lesson probably winded him so much he could barely breathe when it was done, but he was hooked. Now, he teaches kids, relishing the effect he could see on them—not so much in their ability to defend themselves but in their confidence.
In the process, he says, he also learned a lot about interacting with children, something he hopes will make him a better parent to his own toddler.
But there is another factor that also relates to his work with AOAC INTERNATIONAL. Doing things that make the world a better place, he says, is not only rewarding, but fun. In the case of working with kids, the benefit is obvious. But so too with AOAC. “It takes what all of us really enjoy and are passionate about in our science and finds an altruistic outlet that can do some good in the world,” he says. “Not to be corny, but it feels good to do good.”
–Richard A. Lovett
Inside Laboratory Management Contributing Writer
This article was published in the January/February 2022 Inside Laboratory Management (ILM) issue. Click here to learn more and subscribe to ILM.