ABC's Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award To Be Given to Professor Rachel Mata

Prominent Mexican scientist recognized for lifelong career in medicinal plant research

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 13, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) announces that the 2019 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award has been presented to Professor Rachel Mata, PhD, a pharmacist, pharmacognosist, and natural products researcher who has spent most of the past five decades investigating the quality, composition, and benefits of Mexican medicinal plants and fungi.

ABC presents the annual award, named in honor of the late, celebrated professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, to an individual who has made significant research contributions in the fields of pharmacognosy (the science studying drugs of natural origin, usually from plants), ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, or other scientific disciplines related to medicinal plants. Farnsworth, who died in 2011, was a highly published and internationally-renowned research professor of pharmacognosy, a senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the founding members of ABC’s Board of Trustees. 

Dr. Mata, professor emerita at the Department of Pharmacy, School of Chemistry, National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM), is best known for her work on the chemistry of plant compounds from Mexican medicinal plants, fungi, and lichen. Additionally, she has also made important contributions to the development of analytical methods for botanical ingredient quality control, some of which have been used for the preparation of monographs of herbal remedies included in the Second Edition of the Mexican Herbal Pharmacopeia.

For almost half a century, Prof. Mata has been at the forefront of research in the fields of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology, natural products drug discovery, and analytical chemistry. Besides the discovery of many new compounds from traditional medicinal plants, published in – among other publications – a series of papers under the umbrella of “Chemical studies on Mexican plants used in traditional medicine,” she also contributed to the discovery of a number of compounds of agrochemical interest, such as limonoids with herbicidal and insecticidal properties. 

The impact of Prof. Mata’s many scientific contributions goes well beyond her more than 180 scientific papers, book chapters, and books. She taught and mentored over 100 graduate, masters, and bachelor students, including prominent Mexican natural products researchers. She also served as president of the Phytochemical Society of North America in 1997.

Throughout her career, Prof. Mata has received numerous awards and recognitions, most notably the Norman Farnsworth Research Award granted by the American Society of Pharmacognosy in 2014. At the national level, Dr. Mata has been distinguished with the National University Award (Teaching in Natural Sciences) in 2000, with the Martín de la Cruz Prize awarded by the Mexican Ministry of Health in 2002, and the National Chemistry Award Andrés Manuel del Río in 2013, granted by the Mexican Chemical Society. In 2019, the Journal of Natural Products (the official journal of the American Society of Pharmacognosy) published a special edition in her honor.

According to ABC Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner, PhD, “I have become familiar with Prof. Mata’s work through her many presentations at the annual meeting of the American Society of Pharmacognosy. In my opinion, she has become – through the quality and impressive body of work, and her collaborative spirit – the face of pharmacognosy research on Mexican medicinal plants. I consider her one of the giants in the field of botanical natural products research and believe that she is most deserving of this award.”

“I am very pleased and grateful to receive the 2019 American Botanical Council Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award,” wrote Prof. Mata in an email. “I would like to thank ABC for honoring me with this award, in particular to [ABC Founder and Executive Director] Mark Blumenthal and Stefan Gafner. I accept this award in honor of my mentors, colleagues, and students who over the years have shared their scientific work with me in the area of pharmacognosy. To be recognized by ABC is a true honor because this organization really endorses the rational use of medicinal plants, which has been for many years one of the main goals of my research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in Mexico City. The fact that this year the award turns to Mexico reflects the worldwide inclusion of ABC.”

She continued, “To receive an award named after the late Professor Norman R. Farnsworth is overwhelming. Professor Farnsworth’s legacy to the world of modern pharmacognosy is invaluable. He was an inspiration for many generations of pharmacognosists, including myself. I feel even more honored to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of the past honorees, most of whom have been colleagues at one time or another, and who have made important contributions to the world of medicinal plants.”

Past recipients of the ABC Farnsworth award include Otto Sticher, PhD (2018), Raphael Mechoulam, PhD (2017); Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, PhD (2016); John T. Arnason, PhD (2015); Harry Fong, PhD (2014); Gordon Cragg, PhD (2013); De-An Guo, PhD (2012); Doel Djaja Soejarto, PhD (2011); A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD (2010); Rudolf Bauer, PhD (2009); Ikhlas Khan, PhD (2008); Hildebert Wagner, PhD (2007); Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD (2006); and Joseph Betz, PhD (2005).

The award will be announced and presented at the 15th Annual ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony on March 4, 2020, in Anaheim, California. The event, for ABC Sponsor Members, occurs during Natural Products Expo West.

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