UNM researcher combined faith, science through career - Albuquerque Journal

UNM researcher combined faith, science through career

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Religious faith and belief in hard science lived harmoniously within Scott W. Burchiel.

UNM’s Scott W. Burchiel, whose work focused on the effects of environmental agents on the immune system and gene-environment interactions, was 70. (Courtesy of The Burchiel Family)

He received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Davis, and his doctorate in pharmacology from UC, San Francisco. After a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of New Mexico’s Immunology Laboratory, he joined UNM’s College of Pharmacy and went on to become the Nunzio and Sherolyn DeSantis Endowed Chair of Pharmacogenomics.

He was a longtime member of Del Norte Baptist Church and more recently the Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church.

“I remember when I was a child, his willingness to go out every week and visit other church members or people in the larger community who were grieving or going through difficult times, and he’d just sit with them,” said his son, Andrew Burchiel, a New York-based lawyer. “Never mind everything else that was going on in his busy life, he just wanted to be there for them and share the fellowship. It was deeply personal and spiritual to him, and his way of giving back.”

Burchiel, 70, who was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, died July 24, after suffering a cardiac event while planting flowers at a local preschool. “Even at the end of his life, he was trying to do something for people and give back,” his son said.

An expert in immunotoxicology and environmental carcinogenesis, Burchiel published more than 125 scientific manuscripts, was editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology and was a Fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences. He also received research funding from the National Institutes of Health for more than 35 years and was an NIH grant reviewer.

“He really thrived using UNM as a base, and had this lab that was funded by any number of NIH grants, which helped to keep research alive and growing and kept post-graduate students coming in,” Andrew Burchiel said.

A statement from the UNM Health Sciences Center, said Burchiel’s work “focused on the effects of environmental agents on the immune system, gene-environment interactions and the epigenetics of immune suppression.”

Donald Godwin, dean of the UNM College of Pharmacy, credited Burchiel with helping to jump-start the college’s research program in the early 1980s – a program now ranked as the sixth-best pharmacy research program in the country.

“He was an amazing educator, scientist and person,” Godwin said. “The college’s success was his success, and he was an amazing mentor to countless faculty, students and post-docs.”

According to Richard S. Larson, UNM’s executive vice chancellor for research, Burchiel was a “huge contributor to the health and education mission in the Health Sciences Center and the College of Pharmacy, and he will be missed by the faculty, staff and students.”

Burchiel also played a key role in establishing the New Mexico Center for Isotopes in Medicine in partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory. “He really established the foundation for our future work with LANL,” Larson added.

Andrew Burchiel said his father retired from UNM in 2016 but continued working “because his name was attached to these grants, and he wanted funding to keep coming into the lab to support up-and-coming researchers.”

Scott Burchiel also continued to do consulting with universities and biotech companies around the world, giving him and his wife of 47 years, Judy, an opportunity to travel, their son said.

Outside the lab, Scott Burchiel had a great appreciation for music. He worked as a disc jockey at his college radio station while he was an undergraduate. One of his prized possessions was an old Martin guitar, and he also played trombone, both with a church group and with a side band, Andrew Burchiel said. “He had just set up this new vinyl system, and I started buying him records from the Blue Note (jazz) catalog, and he’d jam along with the records on his trombone.”

He was “an amazing father” and “king of the dad joke,” said his son. “He used to coach my soccer teams when I was younger, and later I played football and basketball at Albuquerque Academy, and my sister played volleyball there, and he and my mom were there for almost every game.”

Noting how busy he is in his own life, Andrew Burchiel said he appreciates just how much time his father was able to carve out for his family. “I think you sort of take that for granted when you’re younger, but I know now it took a really active and concerted effort.”

Scott Burchiel is survived by his wife Judy Burchiel, son Andrew Burchiel, daughter Amy Boger and husband Eric, and grandchildren Shelton and Sophie Boger.

A memorial will be held at 10 a.m. Aug. 21, at the Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church, 1901 Montaño NW. The family has established an endowment in his memory to support the research efforts of graduate and professional students at the College of Pharmacy: www.unmfund.org/fund/burchiel-family/.

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