Dr. B. Montgomery Pettitt
College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics
Newsletter Archive
by Noelle Heinze
B. Montgomery Pettitt, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, is designing drugs that could eventually save your life. As the director of the UH Institute for Molecular Design (IMD) and the W. M. Keck Center for Computational Biology, Pettitt is on the forefront of molecular design research.
Pettitt and IMD scientists study the structure of molecules to determine how to turn off, turn on, or modify basic biological mechanisms to prevent or treat disease.
Heart disease, polio, AIDS, diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer’s disease, and leukemia are some of the diseases they are targeting.
Creating designer drugs targeted against cancer, developmental diseases, and viral and bacterial infections is among the goals of Pettitt’s research. “Rational drug design” is the phrase he uses to describe this field. “We try things, find out when it works, when it fails, fix it, and begin again," he says.
“We would like to be able to sit down at a computer and plug information into a program to design drugs, the way an engineer relies on a computer program to design the structure of a bridge,” explains Pettitt. “But, we do not have all the pieces of the puzzle. There are some fundamental bits of research yet to be done.”
This research requires state-of-the-art instruments, such as the largest nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer in Texas—made possible in part by a gift to the University of Houston from the W. M. Keck Foundation—to produce three-dimensional images of molecules in motion.
“Having the Keck X-ray facilities and NMR spectrometer facilities are very important for our work, as are our colleagues, such as Drs. Xiaolian Gao, Kurt Krause, Glen Legge, Dar-Chone Chow, and Hye-Jeong Yeo whose own research adds another dimension to ours.”
Holding joint appointments in physics, computer science, and biology & biochemistry, in addition to chemistry, is an obvious advantage for Pettitt: It is the synergy of these fields that enables Pettitt to solve complex problems at a fundamental level.

For more information about Pettitt and the IMD, please visit:


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