Prof. Maurice Iwu:The Doyen of Natural Medicine

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One of the greatest wonders of life is the abundance of herbal remedies that nature habours for the prevention and treatment of the various diseases that confront mankind. Interestingly, not everyone (regardless of education) is privy to nature’s cornucopia of healing essences; for nature itself seems to select only the specially gifted, the exceptionally intelligent, the masterfully trained and the extraordinarily diligent in revealing its healing and health secrets. And going by his groundbreaking exploits and contributions to natural medicine over the years, there can be no doubt that Professor Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu has got a prominent place among this illustrious group of people.

Prof. Iwu’s relentless research into the depths of nature’s therapeutic powers has led to the isolation and elucidation of the chemical structures of many alkaloids, flavonoids and terpenoids from African medicinal plants, based on the interpretation of their spectroscopic characteristics. This achievement was a significant milestone in science and natural medicine. Moreover, he was instrumental in the codification of the ethnomedicine of African traditional societies. This effort resulted in the publication of over 200 research articles in reputable journals and four well received books.

Even more significant is Prof. Iwu’s contribution to the validation of traditional medicine recipes, using modern evidence-based medical techniques. This singular effort has yielded many health products and six international patents.  His landmark discoveries include: the antihepatotoxic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of Garcinia kola (bitter kola); the antidiabetic activity of bitter leaf in combination with other herbs; the immunomodulatory properties of some mushrooms; the antimalarial activities of Picralima nitida and other plants; the identification of the anti-sickling principle of  pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan); the validation of the health benefits of several culinary plants based on clinical outcome studies, which resulted in a book, “Food as Medicine – Functional Food Plants of Africa”, published by CRC Press, Boca Raton Florida; the development of functional skin care products based on African medicinal and aromatic plants; the anti-leishmanial activity of  African medicinal plants on visceral leishmaniasis; the development of Syferol for the treatment of peptic ulcers; as well as the identification of Akiluvir from Garcinia kola and Andrographolide from Andographis paniculata as effective counter-measure against Ebola virus.

Lifelong commitment

Prof. Iwu’s catalogue of contributions to natural medicine is neither accidental nor exhaustive. It is the outcome of his lifelong commitment to providing relief and wellness to all and sundry through the limitless resources of nature – a commitment that was both inherited and self-cultivated. According him, “My interest in natural medicine was initially from my deep admiration of nature. I come from Umukabia Community in Ehime-Mbano, a people renowned in the pre-colonial era for having reputable healers; so my curiosity must have been framed by familiarity with such a rich healing culture. The research component of my interest, however, was a deliberate choice based on my interest at the University.”

Prof. Iwu is currently the President of  Bioresources Development Group (BDG), an African-based independent biosciences research and development organisation that cultivates,  processes and produces medicines and cosmetics from natural products, as well as being a member of the Board of Directors of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc. He had previously been a Professor of Pharmacognosy at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and a Senior Research Associate at the Division of Experimental Therapeutics of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington D.C.

The renowned scientist is also the founder and chairman of Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP), Bioresources Institute of Nigeria (BION) and the International Centre for Ethnomedicine and Drug Development (InterCEDD). He was the vice president, Research and Development at Tom’s of Maine (a personal care manufacturing company in Maine, USA.).  He is equally the chairman of the Board of Directors of Intercedd Health Products, a dietary supplements manufacturing and marketing company; as well as that of Nature’s Emporium, a chain of health and wellness outlets in major cities in Nigeria.

Awards and recognitions

“A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden,” so says the Holy Writ. And the relevance of this to Prof. Iwu’s life and labours cannot be more apt. His commitment to excellence has not gone unnoticed; he has been celebrated, locally and globally, with many academic and professional honours. The World Health Organisation  in 1980 made him Visiting Scholar to the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, University of Oxford. Three years later, he received the Fulbright Senior Scholar Award (Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio and the Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York). He also received the Senior Research Scholar Award, by the U.S. National Research Council, Washington D.C. (1993-1995) and the Richard Schultz International Prize for Ethnobiology (1999).

Prof. Iwu further received commendation and tribute at the United States House of Representatives, the 106th Congress of the United States of America on 16 February 2002. He has presented over 300 scientific papers, published more than 200 research articles and  has written four books, including the highly cited  “Handbook of African Medicinal Plants” (first edition, 1994; second edition, 2014)  which was published by CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Prof. Iwu is the series editor of the Elsevier Science Series, “Advances in Phytomedicine”; as well as being a member of the Editorial Board of several international scientific journals.  He was a member of the Treatment Research Group (TRG) on Ebola  virus disease established by the Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health and a member of the  Clinical Trial Technical Working Group (CT-TWG) of the National Agency for Food and Drug  Administration and Control  (NAFDAC).

Background to greatness

Prof. Maurice Iwu was born on 21, April 1950, in Aba, Abia state. The second son of a polygamous but very closely-knit family, he attended Christ the King School, Aba, for his primary education and St. Pius X College, Bodo–Ogoni, for secondary education.

Prof. Iwu studied at the School of Pharmacy, University of Bradford, Bradford, England. He also holds a Master of Pharmacy degree and a Ph.D. in  Pharmacognosy from the same university. He was awarded the Doctor of Letters degree (Honoraris Causa) of Imo State University, Nigeria in 2009).  He also attended the Leadership and Strategy in Pharmaceuticals and Biotech Course (Course 10) at the Harvard Business School, Boston (USA).

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