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Fernando Cabieses Molina

Fernando Cabieses Molina

Fernando Cabieses, MD, a respected neurosurgeon, educator, artist, author, and friend of traditional herbal medicine, passed away in Lima, Peru on January 13, 2009. Dr. Cabieses was founder of Peru’s National Institute of Traditional Medicine. He was also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the effects of many of Peru’s most popular traditional herbal medicines, including coca (Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylaceae), maca (Lepidium meyenii, Brassicaceae), ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi, Malpighiaceae), sangre de drago (Croton lechleri, Euphorbiaceae), and uña de gato (Uncaria tomentosa, Rubiaceae), among others. An advisor to the World Health Organization Committee for Traditional Medicine, Dr. Cabieses was a strong proponent of the rational integration of traditional medical practices into national healthcare systems.

Dr. Cabieses once said that “surgery is an admission of the impotence of modern medicine,” and his vision of medical practice (and healing) embraced such unquantifiable concepts as love, soul, and spiritual awakening. He was a great teacher, both due to his skill at communicating and his ability to listen. In spite of being a figure of international prominence, he humbly treated all humanity as equal, sharing freely and learning deeply from shamans and Nobel laureates alike.

Born in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico in 1920, he moved to Peru at the age of 15 with his father, who was in consular service. He studied biology and medicine in Lima, at the Universidad Nacional Mayor San Marcos (UNMSM) from 1937 to 1945, then specialized in neurology and neurosurgery in the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, studying under Carl Schmidt, MD, early investigator of the pharmacological activities of ephedrine.

Upon his return to Peru in 1950, Dr. Cabieses introduced the surgical treatment of cerebral aneurisms and epilepsy. He became clinical professor of neurosurgery at the University of Miami, Florida, as well as professor emeritus of medicine at UNMSM. Dr. Cabieses was founder and rector of the Universidad Cientifica del Sur, where, conscious of the tendency toward excessive automation and dehumanization in medical education in Peru, he devised a novel program of intensive medical training in clinics and hospitals throughout Lima.

He was distinguished with honorary professorships at the Peruvian national universities of Trujillo (1962), Cajamarca (1963), Cuzco (1982), and Lambayeque (1985), and was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa at the Universidad Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (2006). Dr Cabieses was a member of the American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, and of numerous other academic and professional organizations. He was the founding director of the Peruvian Museum of Health Sciences, and he served as the first director of the Museum of the Nation.

Dr. Cabieses was intensely interested in the history of medicine in Peru, and he published numerous scientific articles and books illustrating that traditional medical practices remained vibrant in remote areas of the country. This awareness led eventually to his founding of the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, which aimed to improve healthcare in Peru and beyond through promoting the study and identification of Peruvian medicinal plants.

Recognizing the phenomenal biodiversity of Peru, its role in the evolution of numerous systems of traditional medicine, and its global contributions to agriculture, Dr. Cabieses was a tireless supporter of biodiversity conservation. He initiated the CAMBIE prize to honor individuals for their promotion of conservation in Peru, as well as to raise awareness of the benefits of maintaining these resources intact for future generations.

During the First Peruvian Congress of Medicinal Plants and Phytotherapy in Lima (2000), he was recognized for his contributions, both nationally and internationally, in the fields of research, education, and the diffusion of knowledge of the medicinal plants of Peru. Recognized for his contributions to cultural interchange and understanding, he was appointed president of the International Council of the Ibero-American-Israeli Cultural Institute. He was also honored by being named Amauta—a quechua language word meaning “person of great wisdom” and professor—by the University of Cuenca and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador.

I had the honor and privilege to work with Dr. Cabieses since 1997, during which time our collaboration produced 15 scientific papers and contributed to the discovery of over a dozen new Peruvian plant species, including one new genus that a group of scientists hope to name in his honor soon. His gentle humor, inquisitive nature, and generosity will be missed by innumerable friends and colleagues.

Dr. Cabieses is survived by his wife and daughter.

—James Graham, PhD, adjunct associate professor, Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, University of Illinois at Chicago and
research associate in botany, Field MuseumSources
  1. Unger T. Fernando Cabieses obituary. El Comercio. January, 15, 2009.

  2. Cardenas M. Interview. El Comercio. April 7, 2007.