Dr. William (Bill) Dewey,
Ph.D. receives Virginia’s Life Achievement Award in Science
Dr. William Dewey, Prof. of Pharmacology & Toxicology, was awarded
Virginia’s 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award in Science. This award, given
by Virginia’s Science Museum, is part of an annual awards program in
which Virginia’s leading scientists and industrialists are recognized
and honored. Virginia Commonwealth University Pharmacology and
Toxicology Professor and Department Vice Chairman, Dr. William Dewey has
devoted his career to understanding the mechanisms through which drugs
alter brain function in order to produce analgesia, respiratory
depression, cardiovascular alterations and addiction. Dr. Dewey’s
findings that the manipulation of the cholinergic nervous system alters
pain pathways established a major research agenda for academia and
industry that continues today.
Dr. Dewey proved that opioids produce their direct effects on pain
pathways by stimulating the release of endogenous opioids such as
endorphins. He observed that endorphins reflected the status of the
opioid system under different physiological states: strenuous exercise,
sleep or respiratory distress. This resulted in the discovery that
infants with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had an overactive
endorphin system. This breakthrough led to the introduction of
naltrexone, an opioid-antagonist, as a treatment for SIDS.
Dr. Dewey also contributed significantly to our understanding of the
actions of the active constituents of marijuana. By the mid-1970s, more
than 50 percent of high school seniors had tried marijuana at least once
— one in ten students used it daily — yet little was known about the
health consequences of marijuana and how it produced its complex array
of behaviors. His laboratory was the first to prove that the tremendous
tolerance to marijuana following chronic exposure was due to the brain's
adaptive mechanisms. This and other clinical evidence aided science in
ultimately identifying an endogenous cannabinoid system and a new field
of study. Dr. Dewey continues to pursue the biological basis for the
development of tolerance and dependence to marijuana and heroin-like
drugs such as morphine.
Dr. Dewey earned his undergraduate degree in biology at St. Bernadine of
Sienna College, his master’s at The College of Saint Rose and his
doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Connecticut.
Pictured, Dr. Dewey receiving
the award from Virginia’s Lt. Governor Timothy Kaine.