Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Ying-Jie Chen 1936-2003
Ying-Jie Chen 1936-2003

“Life has taught me not to be afraid of failure, but to exert the effort to try”

— Ying-Jie Chen

Ying-Jie Chen, PhD, an internationally recognized expert in pharmacognosy and phytochemistry, passed away in Shenyang, China on November 18, 2003, after being hospitalized for two months due to conditions following a stroke. He was 67 years old.

Chen was born to a poor family at Haicheng of Liaoning province in northern China on September 17, 1936. At a very young age, Chen was determined to pursue his career in medical sciences after witnessing his neighbor, a woman in her early 30s, die of a disease and leave behind a 3 year-old son. Chen obtained his BSc in Traditional Chinese Medicine at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University (SPU) in 1960 and his MSc in Pharmacognosy at Beijing Medical University in China in 1966. Chen attained his PhD in Natural Medicine Chemistry at Nagoya City University in Japan under the supervision of Prof. Ogihara Yukio in 1985.

After obtaining his doctorate in Japan, Chen returned to China to become a professor and director of the Phytochemistry Department at SPU. His research covered anti-aging and tonic medicines, anti-cancer principles from traditional Chinese medicine, and detoxifying compounds from medicinal plants, which led to his discovery of 92 new chemical compounds, including 20 activated chemical precursors. His extensive research on ginseng was internationally recognized. In particular, he was internationally renowned for his phytochemical research on Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius). Prof. Chen identified and isolated over 60 compounds from ginseng roots, stems, leaves, and berries, of which 16 were newly-discovered compounds. He is the first person to hypothesize that farnesene is the precursor for the biosynthesis of ginsenosides, the primary active constituents of ginseng. He discovered a possible relationship between ginsenoside structures and their anti-tumor, anti-arrhythmia, and anti-arteriosclerosis effects. He also pioneered research on the semi-synthesis, alkaline cleavage and metabolism of ginsenosides, as well as developing technology for the extraction and purification of ginsenosides from the stems and leaves of ginseng. Numerous honors and awards have been granted to Chen for his outstanding contribution to natural medicine research. He was twice awarded Outstanding Young Investigator and Outstanding Investigator by the Chinese Central government.

During his career, Prof. Chen supervised and guided 35 doctoral and 41 master’s degree students. He authored and edited 9 textbooks including Spectral Analyses of Organic Compounds, Chemistry of Natural Medicines, Metabolism of Constituents of Traditional Chinese Medicines, 2D-NMR Spectral Interpretation, and The Ginsenosides. He also published over 226 scientific papers, and held 5 patents. Twelve pharmaceutical products were developed by Chen and have been commercialized. Since 1981, Chen served as an editor for numerous journals, including the Journal of Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs, the Bulletin of Chinese Materia Medica , the China Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences , and the Journal of Pharmaceutical Chemistry .

Prof. Chen served in numerous academic and government appointments, as well as committee duties in China, Japan, the U.S. and the United Nations, holding positions such as Professor of Natural Product Chemistry and Dean of the Faculty of Traditional Chinese Medicine at SPU, Deputy Director of the Research Center for Engineering and Technologies of Natural Medicine, State Drug Administration of China, and Director of the International Ginseng Society. Most notably, he was the first Chinese scholar to serve as consultant and expert in Natural Medicines to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) from 1993 to 1998, and his program reports on medicinal plant development in Mongolia, North Korea, and Congo were well received by UNIDO.

Having traveled to more than 28 countries, Chen attended 45 international conferences and delivered 15 keynote speeches in world-class research institutes such as Yale University and Boston University.

In addition to his academic excellence and leadership, Prof. Chen was highly regarded by his students, colleagues, friends, and research partners around the world as a generous gentleman for his outstanding personality, kindness, humility, helpfulness, and deep consideration. People highly respected and deeply loved him for his high moral standards, integrity, and work ethic. From time to time, Chen would use his own money to support and reward those working for him or around him who were in need due to emergencies and/or family financial difficulties.

Dennis Awang, PhD, FCIC, President of MediPlant Consulting Inc. in White Rock, B.C., reflected on his memory of Prof. Chen: “Ying-Jie Chen was a tireless researcher and writer, whose scientific contributions will long endure. Personally, he was a gentle, affable man of enormous charm and seemingly boundless generosity.”

William Bailey, PhD, Professor in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University said, “I first met Professor Chen at the International Ginseng Conference in Vancouver in 1994. I found him to be a thoughtful and dedicated researcher as well as a teacher. He was keen to develop linkages among members of the international ginseng community. His scientific contributions, leadership, and humanity will be long cherished by those who knew him.”

Paul But, PhD, Professor at the Department of Biology and Institute of Chinese Medicine in the Chinese University of Hong Kong shared the sentiment, “at the Banquet of the International Ginseng Conference in Australia on November 28, 2003, I made a eulogy to Prof. Ying-Jie Chen and briefly gave a talk based on his abstract submitted. All delegates miss him and wish to send to his family their deepest sympathy.”

Yuan-Chun Ma, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Canadian Phytopharmaceuticals Corp., commented: “As a reputable professor, Chen has contributed greatly in building a bridge between botanical science and medicine, and making natural medicine more scientifically recognized worldwide.”

Masatake Niwa, PhD, Professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy of Meijo University said: “I knew Chen since the early 1980’s when he studied at the Nagoya City University in Japan. The death of Prof. Chen is a great loss to natural product chemistry. He was always a modest gentleman and a great chemist. His kind invitation to me to come to his Hainan Island home will not be realized. I wish to share with his family and relatives a profound sense of loss.”

Tadahiro Takeda, PhD, Professor and Director of Kyoritsu University of Pharmacy recalled, “Chen was an excellent teacher and natural product chemist. He had a very inquisitive and innovative mind. Fortunately, I have had the good fortune of years of association and friendship with him.”

Ogihara Yukio, PhD, Professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy of both Nogoya City University and Meijo University, commented on his student’s passing: “I first met Chen at Shenyang almost 20 years ago, when he was already a superb chemist. He performed excellently during his PhD study at my laboratory. He successfully isolated several new triterpene glycosides, determined their structures and wrote five papers. I would like to express my cordial condolence on his death.”

Over 1,000 people attended Chen’s funeral at SPU on November 20, 2003. Chen is survived by his wife, Gui-Fu Ma; son, Bo Chen; daughter-in-law, Zheng-Guang Lu; and granddaughter, Meng-Lu Chen.

— Michael Zichi Li, MSc. MD (Hons), MBA and Deqiang Dou, PhD, Associate Professor, Shenyang Pharmaceutical University