Natural Products Research Group

A Rich History

Pharmacognosy, the study of the medicinal properties of compounds from natural sources, has been uniquely important to science in Rhode Island for decades.

Dr. Heber YoungkenIn 1957, as founding dean of the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy, Dr. Heber Youngken established one of the first Ph.D. programs on campus, and an extensive medicinal plant garden, still in operation today. Led by Daniel Tsao and Leonard Worthen, important early research was conducted on plants and fungi.

Dr. Yuzuru ShimizuYoungken envisioned the potential importance of the world’s oceans as a source for future drug discovery, and in 1969 hired Dr. Yuzuru Shimizu, who became a pioneer in marine pharmacognosy. Dr. Shimizu’s first descriptions of numerous red tide toxins, which plagued the New England coastline in the 1970s, brought international attention to the University’s pharmacognosy efforts.

A Bright Future

The University of Rhode Island has numerous clinical and medicinal chemistry researchers who work with natural products. In 2008 the College of Pharmacy reinvested for a promising future in chemical aspects of pharmacognosy work at URI with the hire of energetic new faculty who seek to advance natural products research in exciting directions.

The Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences within the College of Pharmacy at URI now represents the largest collection of natural products researchers on the east coast. All are focused on collaborative, cross-disciplinary research to discover the next generation of medicines and molecules to benefit human health.

Navindra Seeram

Seeram Lab

Nutraceuticals and Phytopharmaceuticals
Navindra Seeram, Ph.D.
What if we knew exactly why fruits and vegetables are good for you?
Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and offer an exciting source for the discovery of new drugs. In fact, overwhelming data suggest that plant-derived foods, including fruits and vegetables, contain bioactive components which may impart human health benefits.Our research is focused on identifying natural products present in plant extracts and medicinal foods and evaluating these compounds for preventive and/or therapeutic effects against chronic human diseases including cancer and diabetes.Specialized areas of interest:

  • Plant natural product drug discovery
  • Phytomedicine and nutraceutical research
  • Bioavailability and mechanisms of action of bioactive food components
David Rowley

Rowley Lab

Marine Microbiology and Drug Discovery
David C. Rowley, Ph.D.
What if the next miracle drug is waiting to be found at the bottom of the sea?
The marine environment is the next great frontier for drug discovery. The seemingly endless bounty of microbes in the world’s oceans offers an immense opportunity to uncover the next generation of life saving medicines.We seek to discover unprecedented new antibiotics to help combat infectious disease. By exploring unique habitats and understanding microbial ecology, we are gaining new insights to help guide this exciting endeavor.
Specialized areas of interest:

  • Microorganisms from unexplored environments
  • Secondary metabolites produced by marine microbes
  • Bacterial chemical communication
  • Antibiotic drug discovery

Related Resources

Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Program with a Specialization in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy
Molecular mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis; mutation and repair; combinatorial chemistry; solid-phase peptide synthesis; screening, isolation and structure elucidation of physiologically-active natural products; biosynthesis of microbial and plant natural products; herbal medicine, bioinformatics.
Medicinal Garden
The garden and greenhouse were established in 1958 and dedicated to Heber W. Youngken, Jr. Dean Emeritus of the College of Pharmacy in 1994. The Garden functions as an educational display of medicinal plants herbs and spices and also as a conservatiory source of standard specimens.