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Fong receives ABC's Farnsworth award for botanical research

Fong receives ABC's Farnsworth award for botanical research
Long-time Farnsworth collaborator Dr. Harry Fong has been dedicated to the quality, analysis and standardization of herbal medicines and botanical dietary supplements worldwide.

The American Botanical Council (ABC) announces Professor Harry H.S. Fong, PhD, as the recipient of the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award for 2014. Dr. Fong—a close friend and collaborator of Prof. Farnsworth for almost 60 years—is professor emeritus of pharmacognosy in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois–Chicago (UIC). ABC presents this award each year to a person who or an institution that has made significant contributions to ethnobotanical and/or pharmacognostic research (i.e., research on drugs of natural origin, usually from plants).

Throughout his long career in academia, Dr. Fong has focused his research efforts on collaborative drug discovery from plants, particularly those with active antitumor, cancer chemopreventative, antimalarial, and anti-tuberculosis activities. Dr. Fong also has been dedicated to the quality, analysis, and standardization of herbal medicines and botanical dietary supplements worldwide, collaborating with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Traditional and Complementary Medicine Programme for 30 years and “working with the Hong Kong Health Department for the past 13 years on its ongoing setting of pharmacopeial quality standards for Chinese herbal materials commercially available in Hong Kong.”

To date, Dr. Fong has authored more than 270 scientific journal articles, co-authored nine book chapters, and edited 16 scientific publications, including multiple WHO medicinal plant monographs.

“Being named the recipient of the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award for 2014 is a unique honor,” stated Dr. Fong. “To be invited to join the company of a small, select group of internationally recognized botanical medicine researchers is very humbling.”

Dr. Fong first met Prof. Farnsworth in 1955 at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy, where Dr. Fong was a first-year pharmacy student and Prof. Farnsworth was an instructor and PhD student of pharmacognosy. “Subsequently, I became his first graduate student in 1959,” noted Dr. Fong. After Dr. Fong completed his own PhD in pharmacognosy at Ohio State University in 1965, he returned to the University of Pittsburgh, where he worked with Prof. Farnsworth as a research assistant professor.

The late Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, Ph.D.—the Excellence in Botanical Research Award’s namesake—was one of ABC’s co-founding Board of Trustees members, a research professor of pharmacognosy, and a senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at UIC. When Professor Farnsworth died in 2011 at the age of 81, the global medicinal plant community lost one of its greatest champions.

“Norman Farnsworth and I were best friends on the personal level, and were research and academic collaborators/partners professionally,” explained Dr. Fong. “To say that Norm had impacted my career and my life is an understatement. … Norman convinced me that my life would be more fulfilling as an underpaid academic, rather than a rich pharmacist. The rest, as they say, is history.”

“Harry Fong has made many significant contributions in the fields of drug discovery from botanical materials, the quality control of botanical dietary supplements and traditional herbal medicines, and in setting standards for herbal medicines worldwide,” said ABC Chief Science Officer, Stefan Gafner, PhD, who did post-doctoral research at UIC from 1998 to 1999. “He is internationally recognized as an expert in herbal medicine and one of the most highly regarded pharmacognosists of our time.”

“Dr. Fong’s ability to encourage and inspire collaborative research from world-renowned scientists is second to no one's,” noted Natural Products Association CEO Daniel Fabricant, PhD, and former director of Dietary Supplement Programs at the US Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Fabricant received his PhD from Prof. Farnsworth at UIC and Prof. Fong was a member of his thesis committee. “Fong played a huge role in expanding the program at UIC into the best in the world, leaving no details to chance, then repeated that success with the WHO program and countless others. What makes this amazing is that in addition to growing those programs, Dr. Fong was also responsible for the students in the Medicinal Chemistry/Pharmacognosy program at UIC, often serving as an advisor on everything outside of the dissertation. [H]ow he was able to balance those roles and so many others, is a wonder to this day.”

Dr. Fong has received numerous awards and has served the botanical research community through a number of leadership positions. In the late 1970s, Dr. Fong was the president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy, after which he became president of the Society for Economic Botany from 1981 to 1982. He was the recipient of the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy’s 1997 Jack L. Beal Post-Baccalaureate Alumnae Award as well as the Natural Products Association’s 2008 Burton Kallman Scientific Award. Dr. Fong also is a charter and honorary member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy, a member of the WHO Expert Panel on Traditional Medicine since 1997, and serves on multiple scientific advisory boards for universities around the world.

“Harry has been a key member of major collaborative research programs aimed at the discovery of compounds from terrestrial plants having potential as leads for the development of novel agents for the treatment of a range of serious diseases such as cancer, malaria, and tuberculosis,” noted Gordon M. Cragg, PhD, former chief of the Natural Products Branch of the National Cancer Institute and 2013 recipient of the ABC Farnsworth Award. “Added to this important research, he has also had a major impact on botanical research through the application of his extensive knowledge and expertise to the standardization and quality control of herbal medicines and botanical dietary supplements.”

“Harry Fong and Norman Farnsworth collaborated closely for many decades in advancing botanical research,” added Dr. Cragg, “and it is most fitting that Dr. Fong’s outstanding achievements be recognized with this award named in honor of his longtime colleague and friend.”

“Harry is a dynamic researcher and advocate for natural product research and the responsible use of quality medicinal plant materials,” said ABC Founder and Director Mark Blumenthal. “He and Prof. Farnsworth were almost inseparable and it is highly fitting that ABC acknowledge and honor not only his loyal friendship and academic relationship with Norm, but also his many excellent contributions to the medicinal plant research community.”

Past recipients of the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award are highly accomplished and respected researchers from around the world. They include the following: Joseph M. Betz, PhD, of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (2005); Professor Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, formerly of the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom (2006); Professor Hildebert Wagner, PhD, of the Institute for Pharmaceutical Biology in Munich, Germany (2007); Dr. Ikhlas Khan of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research (2008); Professor Rudolf Bauer, PhD, head of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz in Austria (2009); Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD, chair of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy in the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State University (2010); Professor Djaja D. Soejarto, PhD, of the College of Pharmacy at UIC (2011); Professor De-An Guo, PhD, director of the State Engineering Laboratory for Traditional Chinese Medicine Standardization Technology and director of the Shanghai Research Center for TCM Modernization at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2012); and Gordon M. Cragg, PhD, former chief of the Natural Products Branch of the US National Cancer Institute (2013).

The ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award will be presented to Dr. Fong in absentiaat the 10th Annual ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony on March 5 in Anaheim, Calif. Dr. Fabricant will accept the award on behalf of Dr. Fong. The event, for ABC Sponsor Members, occurs during the NEXT Innovation Summit nutrition, natural products, and dietary supplements conference and Natural Products Expo West.

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