Dr. Ronald W. Estabrook: First graduate school Dean, first NAS member

Dr. Ronald W. Estabrook, Professor Emeritus and longtime Chairman of Biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center, who served as the first Dean of UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, died Aug. 5.

Dr. Ronald W. Estabrook
Dr. Ronald W. Estabrook

Dr. Estabrook, 87, was world-renowned for his knowledge of enzymatic reactions related to toxicology and steroid hormone biosynthesis, and he was the first faculty member at UT Southwestern to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. 

“He leaves an enduring legacy of important contributions to the field of biochemistry and the development of UT Southwestern into an internationally recognized medical center,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “It is fitting that one of the six colleges here at UT Southwestern Medical School is named in his honor, recognizing Dr. Estabrook’s decades-long commitment to teaching, research, and service.”

Dr. Estabrook, born in Albany, N.Y., on Jan. 3, 1926, joined the Navy at the age of 17, attended officer training school at Princeton, and then served as navigator on a ship sweeping minefields in the Pacific. When he returned, he pursued his undergraduate studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then earned his doctorate degree at the University of Rochester. He did postgraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and studied at the Molteno Institute at the University of Cambridge in England.  

Dr. Charles Sprague, first President of the medical center, recruited him to UT Southwestern in 1968. By the time he arrived on campus as Chairman of Biochemistry and holder of the Virginia Lazenby O’Hara Chair in Biochemistry, Dr. Estabrook was among the most-cited researchers in the country for his breakthrough work on the hemoprotein molecule known as cytochrome P450. His work over the years on the biological functions of cytochrome P450 significantly furthered scientific understanding of how the body metabolizes drugs, pollutants, and environmental chemicals, including carcinogens.

Under his leadership, the department became widely known for its outstanding research and education. In 2006 he was named an Ashbel Smith Professor, one of the highest honors bestowed by the UT System Board of Regents for excellence in teaching and scholarship. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1975, and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1979. After 14 years as a department Chairman, Dr. Estabrook stepped down to return full-time to his laboratory and the study of P450 enzymes. He received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to biochemistry and to medical education, including honorary degrees from the University of Rochester and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Dr. Estabrook was a marvelous biochemist, particularly rooted in physiological chemistry but also fully comfortable in the emerging field of molecular biology,” said Dr. Donald Seldin, Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine who served as department Chairman from 1952 to 1988 and for whom another of the medical school’s colleges is named. “His emphasis on normal and abnormal biochemical pathways provided an ideal introduction to clinical medicine. To emphasize the explanatory power of basic biochemistry for medicine, Dr. Estabrook had a clinician give the opening lecture in his course to the medical students. His program, therefore, was an ideal background and stimulus for the study of disease. We will all miss him, not only his broad scientific competence, but also his personal sparkle and verve.”

Memorial contributions may be directed to UT Southwestern Medical Center, P.O. Box 910888, Dallas, TX 75391-0888 or online at utsouthwestern.edu/donatenow to support education and research in memory of Dr. Estabrook.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Seldin holds the William Buchanan Chair in Internal Medicine.

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