VCU Pharmacology and Toxicology
Billy R. Martin, Ph.D. dies
Billy R. Martin, Ph.D.,
chair of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and internationally
renowned for his research in understanding addiction and drugs of
abuse and how they affect the brain, died Sunday June 8th 2008
in Richmond. He was 65.
Download/view presentation of Dr. Martin (maybe slow due to file size,
Martin played a prominent
role in developing the department’s reputation for landmark research
in drugs of abuse. For more than 30 years, Martin’s primary focus was
researching the effects of marijuana’s principal psychoactive
ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. In the late 1970s,
Martin was the first to show that most of the behavioral effects of
marijuana were attributable to the compound THC, and his contributions
to the study of cannabinoid receptors in the brain brought new life to
what was once thought to be a dead-end field.
“Billy was a groundbreaking
researcher whose work changed the landscape of addiction research in
this country,” said Francis L. Macrina, Ph.D., VCU’s vice president
for research. “His advice also was sought worldwide by those who would
set marijuana-control policy.”
In 1997, Martin was awarded
a National Institutes of Health Method to Extend Research in Time
(MERIT) Award for his work in understanding the affect of marijuana on
the brain. Martin also was asked by the National Institute of Drug
Abuse to head an international program project grant on marijuana.
Martin directed a team of prominent marijuana researchers from the
United States and abroad in investigating anandamide, a naturally
occurring marijuana-like substance in the brain.
Martin served as director
of VCU’s NIDA Center for Drug Abuse Research, which attracted more
than $20 million in federal funding.
In 1998, Martin was honored
as a top contributor in science with a Virginia Top Scientist Award
and received the VCU Distinguished Scholarship Award in 1996. He also
was the first recipient of the Outstanding Inventor Award from the VCU
Tech Transfer Office in recognition of his multiple patents based on
Martin was to receive the
Nathan B. Eddy Award on June 15, the highest honor awarded by the
College on Problems of Drug Dependence. He also was scheduled to
receive the VCU Award for Excellence, the highest honor that this
University bestows on a faculty member, this fall.
Before joining VCU in 1976,
Martin received postdoctoral training at the University of Uppsala in
Sweden and the University of Oxford in England. He received his Ph.D.
in pharmacology from the University of North Carolina in 1974. Martin
served as the first president of the International Cannabis Research
Society, adviser to the World Health Organization, a member of the
Institute of Medicine Advisory Panel and president of the College on
Problems of Drug Dependence.
“In the face of progressing
disease, Billy was undaunted,” said Jerome F. Strauss, M.D., Ph.D.,
chair of the VCU School of Medicine. “He taught us all how to face the
toughest of challenges with grace and dignity. Virginia Commonwealth
University, the School of Medicine and the Department of Pharmacology
and Toxicology have lost one of their treasures.”
Martin is survived by his
wife, Jean Y. Martin; his son, Zachary Lee Martin; his daughter,
Lindsay Brooke Martin; his brother, Donald Lee Martin; and his
stepbrother, Elmer Mabe Jr. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be
made to the Massey Cancer Center, P.O. Box 980037, Richmond, VA
23298-0037 or to The Foundation of Pharmacology, P.O. Box 980613, MCV
Station, Richmond, VA 23298.