Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn Receives Egon Stahl Award in Gold from the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research
By Stefan Gafner, PhD
In November 2020, Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD, received the Egon Stahl Award in Gold, the highest and most prestigious scientific honor bestowed by the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research, better known as the GA (the acronym for the organization’s German name, Gesellschaft für Arzneipflanzen- und Naturstoff-Forschung). The GA is one of the largest organizations worldwide that promotes scientific work related to medicinal plants and natural products.
Kinghorn is a renowned natural products researcher, the longtime editor-in-chief of the Journal of Natural Products (JNP), and professor and Jack L. Beal Chair in the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Pharmacy’s Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy. The award was presented in a virtual ceremony on November 6, 2020.
The Egon Stahl Award in Gold is given once every three years. It is named after Egon Stahl, PhD (1924-1986), who is best known for his pioneering work with thin-layer chromatography. Stahl endowed the award on his 60th birthday in 1984.
Kinghorn is the eighth recipient of this award. In its announcement of the award, the GA wrote that “the prestigious Egon Stahl Award in Gold 2020 is bestowed to Prof. Dr. A. Douglas Kinghorn in recognition of his leading role in the natural product drug discovery, in particular those with anticancer, cancer chemopreventive, and substances with a sweet taste and taste-modifying agents.”1
After receiving his PhD from the University of London School of Pharmacy, and later a higher doctorate (DSc) from the University of London, Kinghorn pursued his career in the United States. He completed one year of post-doctoral studies in the Department of Pharmacognosy at the University of Mississippi and was appointed research associate and then assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 1976 and 1977, respectively, followed by the promotion to full professor in 1986. At UIC, he was part of a highly successful team of researchers headed by the late Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, and including Professors Geoffrey A. Cordell, PhD; Harry H.S. Fong, PhD; John M. Pezzuto, PhD; Djaja D. Soejarto, PhD; and Richard B. van Breemen, PhD. Kinghorn moved to the OSU College of Pharmacy in 2004 to become the inaugural Jack L. Beal Chair in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy.
Kinghorn has authored or co-authored nearly 600 scientific publications, mainly in the field of isolation and structure elucidation of natural compounds from plants. Besides his research work, he is also well known for his work as editor-in-chief of JNP, a role that he held from 1994 to 2019, and as one of the editors of the book series Progress in the Chemistry of Organic Natural Products (Springer). He has mentored more than 50 graduate students and numerous post-docs during his academic career.
In his award lecture, Kinghorn emphasized that mentorship of young researchers is a key part of forming the next generation of scientists in natural products research. He acknowledged two late British pharmacognosists who assisted him in his early scientific career: Professor Fred J. Evans, PhD, his PhD thesis advisor who stressed the importance of scientific rigor; and Professor J. David Phillipson, PhD, who encouraged him to pursue a postdoctoral appointment in the United States.
Kinghorn also mentioned Farnsworth’s enormous impact on his career and the successful collaboration with him and other colleagues at UIC. This led to some of Kinghorn’s most impactful scientific discoveries and publications to date, such as a report of the cancer chemopreventive activity of resveratrol and the discovery of betulinic acid as a selective inhibitor of human melanoma, which were published in the highly regarded scientific journals Science and Nature Medicine, respectively. With close to 6,000 citations, the paper on resveratrol and its cancer chemopreventive actions is the most cited publication that Kinghorn has co-authored.
During the award ceremony, which was a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GA president Judith Rollinger, PhD, congratulated Kinghorn for his exceptional scientific career and lauded him as the “best editor” in the area of natural products chemistry, emphasizing his commitment and dedication to the highest standards for publication in JNP.
I can personally attest to Kinghorn’s high editorial standards, as I have kept a manuscript I submitted to the JNP, looking predominantly red due to the handwritten edits from Professor Kinghorn, as an example and a reminder of the importance of proper writing and good mentorship. I will always be grateful for the time he took to improve my paper and those of so many colleagues before and after me.
- Egon Stahl Award in Gold to Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn from GA [press release]. Darmstadt, Germany: Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research; July 7, 2020. Available at: www.ga-online.org/egon-stahl-award-in-gold-cjm2. Accessed November 16, 2020.