March 1, 2018

Wendell W. Weber, PhD, MD (1925-2018)

Wendell W. Weber, PhD, MD, the “father” of arylamine N-acetyltransferase research, and more broadly (along with his colleague Werner Kalow) the field of pharmacogenetics, passed away on Sunday, January 28, 2018, at the age of 92.

Dr. Weber was born in Maplewood, Missouri on September 2, 1925.  He received his BA in Chemistry from Central College in Fayette, Missouri in 1945, his PhD in Physical Chemistry from Northwestern University in 1950, and his MD from the University of Chicago in 1959. He completed his medical residency and was chief resident in Pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco in 1962. In 1963 he joined the Department of Pharmacology at New York University Medical School as Assistant Professor, becoming full Professor in 1973. In 1974, he joined the University of Michigan faculty as Professor of Pharmacology in the Medical School and held an additional appointment as Professor of Toxicology in the School of Public Health from 1986 to 1997. Dr. Weber's research focused on the acetylation polymorphism with the goal of understanding variations in genetic susceptibility to the effects of drugs, foods and other exogenous substances. He is widely recognized as the founder of the N-acetyltransferase field and authored comprehensive monographs published by Oxford University Press in 1987 and 1997. He organized a symposium in N-acetylation pharmacogenetics held at the annual meetings of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the Society of Toxicology published in Federation Proceedings. He published numerous journal articles and reviews, including a comprehensive review regarding the role of the N-acetylation polymorphism on isoniazid metabolism, a comprehensive review regarding N-acetylation pharmacogenetics and the publication announcing a consensus nomenclature for N-acetyltransferase alleles. His laboratory had particular interest in animal models of the human N-acetylation polymorphism, for which they developed and maintained rabbit, inbred mouse and inbred Syrian hamster colonies. His laboratory was a leader in advancing information about both N-acetyltransferase 1 and N-acetyltransferase 2 in animal models and humans. A devoted teacher, Dr. Weber directed the medical pharmacology course for medical students at the University of Michigan and trained and mentored numerous medical and doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows in his laboratory. 

Dr. Weber served on many national committees and journal editorial boards. He was named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer at the University of Michigan in 1993 and an honorary member of the Society of Toxicology in 1994.

Dr. Weber was appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan in 1998 and a scientific symposium in his honor was held at the annual meeting of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 2000. His concluding statement from this symposium remains applicable today:

“As one of the first human hereditary traits affecting drug response to be discovered, the human acetylation polymorphism occupies a position of singular importance in the history of pharmacogenetics and in the future impact of the field on the practice of medicine. There is, I believe, no better example to teach us how a broad spectrum of individual responses to exogenous chemicals, including drugs, can arise from a single, genetically determined, metabolic theme, and to demonstrate how a better understanding of such traits can guide us in devising strategies to prevent human illness of environmental origin”.

Dr. Weber’s legacy is profound and he is deeply missed by those of us honored to know him as well as many others who knew him through his research. Dr. Weber is survived by his wife of 65 years, LaDonna Tavis Weber, his children Jane Holt Weber and Theodore Wendell Weber, and his grandchildren Nathan Holt Becker and Nina Frances Weber.