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UM Natural Products Center Director Named AAAS, ASP Fellow

By Natalie Ehrhardt

University of Mississippi

Josh Gladden (left), University of Mississippi vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs, presents Ikhlas Khan with the university’s Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award during 2016 Commencement ceremonies in the Grove. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

 Ikhlas Khan, director of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The AAAS council elects members each year whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science, or its applications, are scientifically or socially distinguished.” The 2022 class of fellows, announced today (Jan. 31), includes 505 scientists, engineers and innovators from around the world, spanning 24 scientific disciplines.

Khan, also a research professor of pharmacognosy in the UM School of Pharmacy, is recognized for distinguished contributions to understanding the chemistry and biological activity of natural compounds, particularly those of botanical supplements. 

“I am humbled and honored to join the ranks of fellows at AAAS,” he said. “This brings recognition to our research, school and the university. I would like to thank all who worked over the years to make this happen. 

“In the lab, everybody pitches in. ‘Fellow’ is not something I did on my own.”

Stephen Duke, a principal scientist at the natural products center and an AAAS fellow, nominated Khan.

“Dr. Khan has a tremendous international reputation for his research in natural compounds and their pharmaceutical and nutraceutical uses,” Duke said. “I found two more AAAS fellows who know him and his work to write letters of support for my nomination, and they were delighted to do this. The honor is overdue.”

Khan’s work has influenced research on medicinal plants and supplements around the world, said Donna Strum, UM pharmacy dean.

“A number of his scientific achievements have gained him international recognition as a scholar, leader and innovator,” she said. “He is well known for his bio-analytical approaches to improve the quality and safety of botanical dietary supplements and his collaborative work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and regulatory agencies of other nations. 

“His scientific contributions have guided the worldwide dietary supplement industry.”

With most pharmaceuticals discovered through natural sources, Khan’s initial interest in the field stemmed from sheer curiosity about what can be found in nature. The passion fueling his work is born from a desire to make as large an impact on the general population as possible, with botanical dietary supplement use growing ever more popular.

“Our job right now is not only to look at what is efficacious, but also to look at the safety and quality of the product that’s being sold on the market,” he said. “We are certainly, I would say, leading research-wise so I’m proud that we are leading the pack assuring the safety and quality of products. Supplements are a global issue now.”

Founded in 1995, the NCNPR is the nation’s only university-affiliated research center devoted to improving human health and agricultural productivity through the discovery, development and commercialization of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals derived from natural products. 

Under Khan’s leadership, it has been a recognized FDA Center of Excellence since 2001.

“With Dr. Khan’s direction, the center has been critical in expanding scientific knowledge in the numerous disciplines, such as analytical chemistry, pharmacognosy and toxicology, essential for comprehensive botanical research,” said Gregory Noonan, FDA senior science adviser. “Dr. Khan’s collaborations across academia, government and industry have been essential in improving the quality and safety of botanical ingredients and products.

“Through his leadership and commitment to education, he is advancing current scientific knowledge and influencing the next generation of scientists and researchers. Dr. Khan’s impact crosses many scientific disciplines and has clearly improved public health, making him a clear choice as an AAAS fellow.”

Further cementing his place as a leader in the scientific community, Khan has also just been named an American Society of Pharmacognosy fellow in acknowledgement of his “sustained and extraordinary scientific contributions.”

“It is very exciting to see Dr. Khan receive two prestigious awards this year,” Strum said. “His expertise and commitment to natural products research is unmatched, and he is most deserving of these recognitions.

“I am grateful that we have such talented leadership in the School of Pharmacy. Under his leadership, the NCNPR has continued to grow and excel. Having such accomplished researchers means we can continue to elevate excellence and make a positive impact on improving health in Mississippi and beyond.”

Khan joined the university in 1992 as a research scientist in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and has brought in more than $30 million in external funding over the past 20 years. He was named director of the NCNPR in 2017. 

His work with the university has led to a variety of academic and research appointments and accolades, both within the School of Pharmacy and externally.

Khan received the UM 2016 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed for research activity by the university. He also has earned the School of Pharmacy Faculty Research Award, Distinguished Professor Award and the Cumberland Pharmaceuticals Inc. Faculty Research award, the latter twice.

He has authored and co-authored more than 800 research articles and served as a featured speaker at numerous national and international venues. He also organizes and hosts one of the world’s premier conferences on botanical supplements each year, the International Conference on the Science of Botanicals, bringing leading botanical scientists and pharmaceutical representatives to Oxford.

Khan holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in India. He earned his doctorate in pharmacy from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Germany and completed postdoctoral studies at the Department of Pharmacy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

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