Ortiz de Montellano elected fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Paul R. Ortiz de Montellano, PhD, has been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the oldest chemical society in the world. Ortiz de Montellano gained renown for his work with cytochrome P450 enzymes, which help the liver metabolize drugs and other chemicals, and regulate hormone levels.

Ortiz de Montellano is an emeritus faculty member in the UCSF School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and the School’s former associate dean of research. The Royal Society of Chemistry, which was founded in 1841 and now has 54,000 members, is dedicated to “the general advancement of Chemical Science.”

Ortiz de Montellano’s investigation of cytochrome P450 enzymes started with a mystery. In 1979, a team in Ortiz de Montellano’s lab was studying the details of biochemical reactions and stumbled across a strange phenomenon: Some drugs that disrupted reactions also turned liver tissue a disturbing shade of green.

It turned out that cytochrome P450 enzymes were being disabled in the course of trying to break down these drugs, leading to an accumulation of toxic, green compounds in the liver. Ortiz de Montellano’s group began investigating this phenomenon with the hope that its research would lead to treatments that disabled other enzymes, such as those that synthesize the hormones testosterone and estradiol.

Ortiz de Montellano recalled one exciting period when a clear picture of these reactions first came into view. He was on sabbatical in Strasburg, France, when a student called him at 3:30 am with the news that the student had finally figured out what was going on with a compound the lab was investigating. The work paved the way for drugs that use P450 inhibitors to adjust hormonal levels in the body that are either too high or too low.

Ortiz de Montellano’s latest research focuses on the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, which relies extensively on P450 enzymes to infect patients.

After 50 years as a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Ortiz de Montellano is excited to be named a fellow. “It’s something that’s very gratifying,” he said. “I have been privileged to study the chemistry underlying our basic biology for many years, and it is an honor to have this work recognized by the Royal Society.”

His work on tuberculosis and other neglected infectious diseases continues.

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