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Edward Joseph Shellard
Edward Joseph Shellard 1914–2010

Distinguished Professor Edward ‘Joe’ Shellard died on June 19, 2010, at the age of 96.

Professor Shellard entered the Pharmacy Department at Chelsea College (London) in 1957, and soon afterwards he was awarded his doctorate for studies on resins from plants in the genus Ipomoea (Convolvulaceae), including jalap root (I. jalapa). The pharmacy department at Chelsea was gaining worldwide recognition in the late 1950s and the 1960s for the quality and amount of research being carried out there, and Professor Shellard played a major role in building this reputation by establishing a pharmacognosy research group that was the leader in the United Kingdom. It was due to his efforts that the technique of thin-layer chromatography was introduced to pharmaceutical science in the United Kingdom. It is difficult to exaggerate the huge difference that this made at the time to the rapid isolation of compounds from plant extracts and its value in evaluating crude drugs, since it added a completely novel dimension to the “classical” macroscopical, microscopical, and ‘wet test’ techniques that had been used until then.

In the 1960s, Professor Shellard became known throughout the world for his research on the alkaloids found in the genus Mitragyna (Rubiaceae); he published over 40 research papers on the topic. These alkaloids are still the subject of interest and research in various countries because of their effects on the central nervous system, on the cardiovascular system (as ingredients of the hooks of Uncaria rhynchophylla used in Chinese medicine), as a hypotensive, and as immunostimulant compounds in the herb cat’s claw (U. tomentosa). There is little doubt that this corpus of research made a large contribution to Shellard’s well-deserved appointment to Chair in Pharmacognosy at Chelsea in 1969.

He was a great encourager of young scientists, and his research lab became the incubator for those who would go on to become prominent pharmacognosists in several countries overseas, notably Ghana and Thailand. However, in his later years, he was always very proud that his research group had also produced 4 British professors in pharmacognosy (Professor J. Dave Phillipson, Professor Norman G. Bisset, Professor Peter Hylands, and myself).

This was notable because the strength of Chelsea’s pharmacognosy program was in contrast to the subject’s fate in most other British schools of pharmacy in the 1960s and 1970s. Its survival in the United Kingdom was largely due to the heroic efforts of Professor Shellard, in the teeth of considerable hostility from some quarters. He championed the subject in discussions with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and at various conferences.

Joe Shellard became known throughout the world through his leadership and active involvement in the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Section of FIP (the International Pharmaceutical Federation). In the 1950s this was the only international forum for pharmacognosists, and Professor Shellard was a popular and very active leader in the group, as he was in the European Society for Medicinal Plant Research for many years. He established contacts with many different countries, and there was always at least one visiting researcher in his labs at Chelsea—which initiated a tradition that continued for decades at King's College London.

Professor Shellard pioneered the teaching of pharmacognosy in the United Kingdom from a chemical, as well as a botanical, aspect. He introduced the use of small projects in teaching undergraduates at Chelsea in the late 1960s, when this approach was still very novel in UK universities.

Special mention should be made of the part played by Professor Shellard in the early 1970s in setting up a dialogue with British herbalists and introducing them to scientific aspects of their field of interest. A weeklong summer school for herbalists and herbal product manufacturers on scientific evaluation techniques was organized in 1974 and was a key factor in the development of the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, in which he took a key interest.

Professor Shellard was not someone who could be forgotten easily because of his strength of character, his enthusiasm, his political and administrative skills, and most of all, his warmth of heart towards his staff and students and their families. After his retirement, he had the satisfaction of seeing pharmacognosy at Chelsea (later King’s) not only survive but flourish, while pharmacognosy teaching and research also progressed at several other UK schools of pharmacy. His valiant efforts in preserving the principles and practices of pharmacognosy have borne fruit in their now being much more accepted as necessary for the scientific evaluation of herbal and other complementary medicine products.

—Peter Houghton, PhD