March 26, 2010

Waterman to end 18 fruitful years as Biochemistry chair

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Michael Waterman, Ph.D., is stepping down as chair of Biochemistry after nearly 18 years to focus on his research. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Waterman to end 18 fruitful years as Biochemistry chair

Michael Waterman, Ph.D., has recruited a “who's who” of scientists during the nearly 18 years he has chaired the Department of Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

They include Richard Armstrong, Ph.D., editor of the journal Biochemistry; Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., director of the Mass Spectrometry Research Center; and Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Waterman, the Natalie Overall Warren Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, will relinquish his chairmanship on July 1 in order to spend more time in his lab.

“It's time to let somebody else take charge,” he said. “There are experiments that I want to get done.”

F. Peter (Fred) Guengerich, Ph.D., the Harry Pearson Broquist Professor of Biochemistry and director of the Center in Molecular Toxicology, will serve as interim chair while a nationwide search for Waterman's successor is conducted.

F. Peter (Fred) Guengerich, Ph.D.

F. Peter (Fred) Guengerich, Ph.D.

“I'm very proud of what I've been able to contribute to the Biochemistry Department and to the medical school in general,” said Waterman, 70, who was recruited to Vanderbilt in 1992 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Biochemistry was a “superb” department then, and still is, thanks to the support of a succession of vice chancellors of Health Affairs going back to Roscoe “Ike” Robinson, M.D., “who hired me,” he said. “It's a terrific place … (but) nothing could have happened without the support of the faculty.

“Because of these faculty members, we've been able to create very sophisticated and outstanding scientific facilities,” such as the Center for Structural Biology, directed by another Waterman recruit, Walter Chazin, Ph.D., he continued. These centers provide “wonderful opportunities for all faculty at Vanderbilt to carry out specific types of studies that hadn't been possible here before.”

Waterman also praised department administrator Marlene Jayne, who “is so important to (our) success,” and administrative officer Robert Dortch.

Honored for his research on the structure, function and regulation of cytochrome P450 enzymes required for lipid biosynthesis and metabolism, Waterman also is internationally recognized for his mentorship of young scientists.

“In his time here, Mike Waterman has led Biochemistry with great distinction,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “His academic standing, personal integrity and his leadership will continue to serve as a model for our chairs and academic community.”

Guengerich, who is celebrating his 35th year as a Biochemistry faculty member, earned his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt in 1973 under Harry Broquist, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry, emeritus.

Last year he received two prestigious honors for his scientific and professional contributions: the Outstanding Achievement Award in Chemistry in Cancer Research from the American Association for Cancer Research, and induction into the first class of American Chemical Society Fellows.

“I owe a lot to the department,” said Guengerich, who also is associate editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“We have the highest level of confidence in Fred stewarding the department through this transition,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences.