When Dr. Ronald “Ron” Estabrook came to UT Southwestern Medical Center in 1968, he was among the most cited researchers in the country. The first UT Southwestern faculty member elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Estabrook was also Chair of the Department of Biochemistry, holder of the Virginia Lazenby O’Hara Chair in Biochemistry, and the first Dean of the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
His life began in Albany, New York. After graduating high school during World War II, Dr. Estabrook entered the Navy after his 17th birthday. Following officer training school at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame, he was appointed to the rank of ensign and served as a submarine chaser in Miami. Dr. Estabrook’s service then took him to the Pacific, where he was a line officer and navigator while his ship swept minefields.
After the war he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Next came graduate training at the University of Rochester under the supervision of internationally known biochemist Dr. Elmer Stotz. Dr. Estabrook received his Ph.D. in 1954 with a dissertation titled “Studies on the Cytochromes in Heart Muscle Extracts.” The work was instrumental in directing him toward studying hemoproteins and led to postdoctoral training under biophysicist Dr. Britton Chance at the University of Pennsylvania. Three years later he became a research fellow at the Molteno Institute at the University of Cambridge and studied with entomologist Dr. David Keilin, the discoverer of cytochromes.
In 1959, Dr. Estabrook was recruited back to the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that he, along with Drs. David Cooper and Otto Rosenthal, conducted breakthrough work on the hemoprotein molecule known now as cytochrome P450.
After coming to UT Southwestern, Dr. Estabrook continued his work on the biological functions of cytochrome P450, which significantly furthered scientific understanding of how the body metabolizes drugs, pollutants, and environmental chemicals, including carcinogens. During a 14-year tenure as Chair of the Department of Biochemistry, he built a Department known for its outstanding research and education. It was during this time Dr. Estabrook also became Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He returned to the laboratory full-time in 1982 to focus on research.
He received many honors for his contributions, including an honorary Doctor of Medicine from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and a Doctor of Science from the University of Rochester. Dr. Estabrook also was named to the Cecil and Ida Green Chair in the Biomedical Sciences and appointed acting director of the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences.
Throughout his long career he trained a large number of scientists who became leaders in the study of drug metabolism around the world. Dr. Estabrook retired in 2006 and was named an Ashbel Smith Professor, one of the highest honors bestowed by the UT System Board of Regents. Two years later, UT Southwestern named one of its six academic colleges at UT Southwestern Medical School in his honor.