Pharmacy researcher receives young investigator award

Dejan Nikolic

Dejan Nikolic (click on image for larger file size)

Dejan Nikolic, research assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has received an international early-career award for studies of plant medicinal chemistry.

The Arthur C. Neish Young Investigator Award is presented annually by the Phytochemical Society of North America.

Nikolic, who is also a co-investigator in the UIC/NIH Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research, was a featured speaker at the society’s annual meeting, recently held at Oregon State University.

Nikolic’s research focuses on botanical dietary supplements for women’s health. He utilizes modern liquid chromatophy-mass spectrometric approaches to determine the structure of active plant ingredients, their bioavailability, metabolic pathways and potential toxicity.

He also looks for active ingredients in clinical specimens collected from patients enrolled in clinical trials involving plant compounds.

His current research has focused on the phytochemistry of black cohosh, a popular dietary supplement for women seeking alternative treatments for menopausal symptoms. Nikolic and his colleagues recently discovered 73 different metabolites of black cohosh, many of which are new natural products.

The identified compounds belong to structural groups that include several classes of alkaloids, Nikolic said. “Alkaloids are among the most bioactive compounds found in plants, so discovering so many of these will certainly shed a lot of light on our understanding the pharmacological profile of black cohosh,” he said.

The society’s award is named in honor of Arthur C. Neish, who in the 1950s and 1960s was a pioneer in the synthesis and use of radiolabeled precursors. He was a major contributor to the field of plant natural product biosynthetic pathways.

Nikolic said he was honored to win the award, as it is “a recognition of the quality of research carried out in the UIC/NIH Center for Botanical and Dietary Supplements Research.”

Funds supporting the award were donated by the Phytochemical Society of North America, the National Science Research Council of Canada, Pfizer Corporation and private donors. The first Young Investigator awards were presented in 1999.