The year 1960 marked the beginning of the Medical Center of the University of Kentucky and its basic science departments of the College of Medicine, including the Department of Biochemistry. That year, the department began teaching the first freshman class of medical students. The faculty consisted of George W. Schwert (Ph.D., Minnesota), a World War II Navy veteran who came from Duke University and joined the department as chairman; Richard S. Schwert (Ph.D., Iowa State) a World War II Air Force veteran who was recruited from the City of Hope Hospital in California; and Robert L. Lester (Ph.D., California Institute of Technology), who was recruited from the University of Wisconsin. The faculty reflected the then current research interests of enzymology, protein synthesis, and bioenergetics.
The faculty size increased to six for a number of years and then gradually rose to its current size as the graduate program expanded, additional teaching duties were added, and its research mission became prominent. Michael Wells was the department’s first Ph.D. student and subsequently became a founding member and later head of the Biochemistry Department at the University of Arizona Medical School. Subsequent chairmen were Robert L. Lester, Thomas C. Vanaman (Ph.D., Duke), and the current chair, Louis B. Hersh (Ph.D., Brandeis). In 1989, the department changed its name to its current one to reflect the changing spectrum of faculty research interests.