Dr. Ida S. Owens is head of the Section on Genetic Disorders of Drug Metabolism, a position she has held since its formation in 1988. During post-doctoral training, Dr. Owens became interested in the ER-bound chemical-detoxifying UGT isozyme-system, known to detoxify an indeterminable number of chemical toxins. Upon developing a strategy for identifying and cloning different UDP-glucuronosyltransferases, Dr. Owens was first to identify the bilirubin UGT-cDNA , characterize the bilirubin isozyme and describe the first genetic defect causing Crigler-Najjar diseases. Finding the bilirubin UGT gene embedded in a novel complex UGT1A locus enabled Dr. Owens’s laboratory to identify 13 independently regulated UGTs not previously known. In conjunction with the NIH Sequencing Center, her laboratory characterized and sequenced the 215-kb locus. The 9 viable UGTs share a common carboxy terminus, and the locus remains a major UGT research focus, as well as for researchers interested in population genetics and evolution. Upon testing for agents that possibly upregulate gastrointestinally-specific family-1A UGTs, Dr. Owens’s group unexpectedly discovered that all UGTs are susceptible to kinase inhibitors that downregulate their previously unknown requirement for regulated phosphorylation. Studies from that laboratory have shown that the active site of UGTs is not fixed, but is susceptible to change via on-going phosphate signaling carried out by PKC- and/or tyrosine kinase(s) that control the activity of a particular UGT isozyme.
Dr. Owens received her B.S. in biology with a minor in mathematics from North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC; she received her Ph. D. in physiology with a minor in biochemistry from Duke University, Durham. Dr. Owens was awarded the NIH Director’s award for her research on UGT, and she has been invited to present her research work at numerous national and international scientific meetings held at many different national and international universities and other venues.