Archive for Monday, December 23, 2002

Chemistry honors named for mentors at KU

December 23, 2002


Within the next nine months, Ron Borchardt will receive two lifetime achievement awards.

And he said they'll be doubly significant to him since they also pay tribute to two Kansas University giants who helped launch his career.

Borchardt, a KU professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, will receive awards named for Ed Smissman and Takeru Higuchi. The men were titans in the fields of pharmaceutical and medicinal chemistry.

Smissman was Borchardt's doctoral adviser at KU from 1967 to 1969. Higuchi took Borchardt under his wing as a young faculty member at KU beginning in 1971.

"It was very special to receive both of them in the same year," Borchardt said of the forthcoming awards. "Ed Smissman and Tak Higuchi were very important people in my life as mentors and role models."

Borchardt's colleagues nominated him for the two awards. He'll receive the Takeru Higuchi Research Prize from the American Pharmaceutical Assn. in March in New Orleans. He'll receive the Smissman-Bristol-Myers-Squibb Award in Medicinal Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in September in New York.

Borchardt, 58, came to KU in 1967 as a doctoral student in medicinal chemistry. Smissman, whose career at KU spanned from 1960 until his death in 1974, was known for synthetic chemistry, or replicating naturally occurring materials in the lab.

"He was a very special person, an exceptional scientist and teacher," Borchardt said. "In many respects, he was more interested in helping young people establish their careers than advancing his own."

Smissman secured a Health Sciences Advancement Award from the National Institutes of Health in 1969, which led to KU constructing McCollum Laboratories on its West Campus. He also held several top posts with the American Chemical Society.

After receiving his doctorate in 1969, Borchardt spent two years at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases in Bethesda, Md. Then, in 1971, Smissman helped recruit Borchardt to be an assistant professor at KU.

It was four years after KU had lured Higuchi, now considered the father of pharmaceutical chemistry. Higuchi saw so much promise in Borchardt, he convinced him to switch from medicinal chemistry to his department. Borchardt went on to take over for Higuchi as chair of pharmaceutical chemistry when Higuchi retired in 1983, four years before his death.

"He was a good adviser, mentor and friend to me," Borchardt said.

Borchardt, who has published more than 470 papers, is best known for developing laboratory models that mimic stomach cells, so that researchers can determine the absorption rates of drugs.

"It really changed the drug industry, in many respects," he said. "If there is a major scientific contribution I've made from my career, that's it."

But he said he is prouder of his work with the 180 graduate students he has advised.

"That's ultimately your legacy," he said. "It's like a family."

Borchardt in 1996 started the Globalization of Pharmaceutics Education Network, which includes researchers from around the world. The group meets twice a year to discuss how to overcome cultural barriers to research.

Jack Fincham, dean of the School of Pharmacy, said Higuchi and Smissman continue to add to the prestige of KU's research reputation.

"They're both just giants in their field," Fincham said. "In their respective fields, no one is as prominent as those two gentlemen."

And now, by receiving the awards, Fincham said Borchardt is adding to his giant status as a researcher, as well.

"Ron is just a pre-eminent scholar and researcher," Fincham said. "He is totally dedicated to graduate education and graduate student research. I think he's been a terrific university citizen."

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