Randall Sheldon Alberte, PhD, a respected researcher, teacher, scientist, inventor, author, and biotechnologist, passed away on October 4, 2010, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 63.1
Known as “Randy” to those close to him, Dr. Alberte was born on June 7, 1947, in Newark, NJ. Dr. Alberte’s professional years were enlivened by his toggling amongst an array of careers, such as start-up biotechnology, academic research, teaching, writing, consulting, and within the realms of government and defense contract management, specializing in research and development.
Dr. Alberte’s colleague, economic botanist and author James Duke, PhD, said he was “flattered to consider him a mentor and confidante, someone to criticize some of my overly exuberant, far-fetched ideas” (email, March 9, 2011). Described by Dr. Duke as “lean, wiry, and vivacious,” Dr. Alberte was not only noted for being a vigorous scientist, he was also considered by many to possess a likeable personality. “I always found him engaging,” Dr. Duke said, “a man who seemed to share my flakier concepts, although they probably originated de novo in him, and I listened.”
According to Tom Newmark, the executive chairman of New Chapter Inc., “he was also funny, charming, and honest” (email, March 10, 2011). Newmark, who said he “adored the man,” called Dr. Alberte “a passionate scientist, reporting to the National Academy [of Sciences] on behalf of his research department with the [United States] Armed Services.”
Dr. Alberte received his BA in biology from Gettysburg College and his PhD in botany and biochemistry from Duke University. His post-doctoral training was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He started out at HerbalScience Group, LLC, in Naples, FL, as a consultant in 2006 and quickly worked his way up to managing director of research and development, then to chief scientific officer, which was the position he held at the time of his death. At that time, he was also working as a consultant for NutraTherapeutics in Tampa. A predominant part of Dr. Alberte’s career at HerbalScience was researching and developing products such as botanical immune enhancers and flu remedies, especially using the herb elderberry (Sambucus nigra, Caprifoliaceae).2
“Dr. Alberte was a gentleman and a kind-hearted person with a quick wit, and in addition to all of that, he was a truly outstanding scientist as well,” said Robert A. Newman, PhD, chief science officer of New Chapter, and founder and former co-director of the Pharmaceutical Development Center and Analytical Center at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas (e-mail, March 14, 2011). “I especially appreciated Randy’s science,” Dr. Newman said. “It can best be described as ‘elegant’ in that its logic and novelty led to an unprecedented depth of understanding of natural products such as elderberry. This, in turn, has provided us with meaningful contributions to human health and wellness for which he will be remembered.”
Dr. Alberte was the founding director of biotechnology at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Meyers, FL, where he was a professor from 2003 to 2006. He held numerous other directorships, fellowships, and consultancies, including serving as a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origins of Life at UCLA in the late 1980s. He was designated an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago, and an National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, where he was also granted a National Science Foundation Energy-Related Fellowship.
Throughout his careers at both UCLA and the University of Chicago, Dr. Alberte was a doctoral and post-doctoral mentor to numerous students. One of these former students, William Dennison, PhD, said in a tribute blog post written after Dr. Alberte’s death that “[Randy] fostered camaraderie within the graduate student cohort, and this has provided friends and colleagues for life.”3
At the time of his death, Dr. Alberte had authored 155 publications, many in journals such as Plant Physiology. In more recent years, Dr. Alberte published numerous articles in journals such as Phytochemistry and Pharmacokinetics that dealt with the pharmacokinetic analysis of certain herbs, including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) and elderberry. He was also the primary or sole inventor on nearly 100 patents, both issued and pending. Many of these patents involved the extractions and extraction process of botanical compounds such as from turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae), cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon, Ericaceae), and stinging nettle.
During his tenure at HerbalScience, Dr. Alberte worked alongside many prominent botanical scientists and chemical engineers toward the creation of modern technologies used for the extraction of “batch-reliable, evidence-based, and functional” ingredients from botanical sources.4 “He and his company [HerbalScience] had unique methods for extracting many of the phytochemicals needed to combat a given ailment,” said Dr. Duke.
“He didn’t guess—he probed, he tested, and he was a disciplined, exacting researcher,” said Newmark. “I admired him greatly, and the herbal community lost a brilliant friend with his passing.” Dr. Alberte is survived by his sister, Franka Alberte Ralph.
- Dennison W. More Randy Alberte Memories. Integration and Application Network blog. February 19, 2011. Available at: ian.umces.edu/ blog/2011/02/19/more-randy-alberte-memories/. Accessed March 2, 2011.
- Randall S. Ziki website. Alberte biography page. Available at: www.ziki.com/en/randall-alberte+143625. Accessed March 9, 2011
- Dennison W. Remembering Randy Alberte. Integration and Application Network blog. October 5, 2010. Available at: ian.umces.edu/ blog/2010/10/05/remembering-randy-alberte/. Accessed March 3, 2011.
- About Us. HerbalScience Group website. Available at: www.herbalsciencegroup.com/aboutus.aspx. Accessed March 11, 2011.