Dr. Yalda Shokoohinia, Professor of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry – Sonoran University

What do you teach? How long have you been teaching, and what can students expect to learn from you?

I teach pharmacology and research at Sonoran University. I have been teaching various subjects for about fifteen years such as pharmacology, pharmacognosy, phytochemistry, instrumental analysis and spectroscopy, botanicals and medicinal herbs, pharmacy internship, traditional medicine, etc. 

One of my main goals in the educational process is to transfer an interdisciplinary experience to students including chemistry, biology, and clinical aspects of pharmacology.  

Why did you choose to pursue working in the naturopathic medicine field? 

I am not an ND (Dr. Shokoohinia has a Doctorate in Pharmacy (Pharm D) and Ph.D. in Pharmacognosy from Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran; Fellowship in Phytochemistry, Eastern Piedmont University, Novara, Italy; Fellowship in Medicinal Plants analysis, The University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS.) but having degrees in Pharmacy and Pharmacognosy along with personal and research experiences in Naturopathy and herbals always kept my interest in this field. 

My grandmother, who is from a small city in Southern Iran had a whole room of botanicals in small and big jars and my mother would take us for a visit to her house for any sicknesses. It was amazing to me how yummy or yucky tasting Persian herbals could heal me and my siblings and cousins. She even used cups for taking “wind” out of painful muscle and joints which was believable as a kid but challenging when I grew up wondering how they really worked. 

I pursued Pharmacy because of my passion for chemistry in high school and continued to get a Ph.D. in Pharmacognosy due to a double passion for chemistry and botanicals. I continued research in isolation of pure phytoconstituents and I have isolated more than 90 molecules so far with more than 20 novel molecules discovered. I was too busy exploring small molecules when I was diagnosed with a rare type of arthritis after struggling for three years. I am grateful for both MDs who helped me with my acute situation by pharmaceuticals (I could not walk or carry my baby at the time) and NDs who did a great job controlling my chronic disease with diet, herbals, and holistic medicine and I am pretty pain-free for over 6 years. This personal experience encouraged me to discover more holistic medicine and I started reading books about that. I found myself teaching and doing research in a naturopathic school after all!

What do you like most about being an instructor at a naturopathic school? What aspects are you passionate about?

I am passionate about research and how it makes every single day of your life different. The joy of discovering and solving puzzles. How small molecules make huge changes in your body. 

I love teaching. My parents and all my aunts were teachers and most of my siblings do teaching as a full or part-time job! I loved explaining material to my roommates and neighbors, when I was studying at college, and my friends recommended me to be a teacher sometime! 

As a pharmacist, I love helping people. It is a true blessing seeing people benefit from your career, a consultation, a formulation, research, or any other type of work. Being a health force task member makes you a better version of yourself; you judge less, you care more, and you recognize the value of life more. 

In general, I have a passion to interact with people, especially students. Working with students in teaching or research is one of the best aspects of my career that I enjoy the most. 

Do you focus research on a specific health condition(s)? If so, please explain why you chose to focus on it? 

I have discovered molecules from the plants effective on inflammatory diseases. Some others showed cancer prevention/ treatment efficacies. In general, inflammation and immune-modulating effects are my primary interest in research. This is one of the most recurring complications nowadays and it appears in many different formats, from neurodegenerative diseases to arthropathies, and even cardiovascular and mental diseases. Those inflammatory compounds circulating in your body for a long time harm you more than you imagine. Besides, there are several inflammatory diseases that do not have an acceptable treatment. Some of the compounds that I discovered had beneficial effects for TRP-modulation (transient receptor potential), MMPs (matrix metalloproteinase), NF-kB (nuclear factor), COX (cyclooxygenase) and other inflammatory mediators.

What do you like most about teaching naturopathic medical students?

I love teaching in general but teaching to people who will be front liners and health care practitioners is more enjoyable and trickier! You want to make sure they learn the concept well enough so they would not hurt anyone in the future and make fewer mistakes. I like teaching them also because they recognize the value of their courses more since it is not just the matter of passing the course and getting a grade, it is a matter of learning and a matter of life!

What advice would you give to those considering naturopathic medical school?

As a pharmacist, I notice some gaps in modern medicine. I recognize a greater need for holistic medicine. Every single patient that I see is naturally recovering from a chronic illness that affected their entire life and so many drugs they have been using, makes me encourage more students to join the ND school. I know it is not very easy to be a medical student, I know there is more fun stuff to do in the world but the joy of giving health to others is so special; it is worth it! Thinking about that makes you stronger in the way you pursue your goals and can cause you to enjoy the process more.

Anything else you would like to include in your spotlight?

I am pleased to announce that Sonoran University is about to officially open Ric Scalzo Institute for Botanical Research which started from a generous donation and is attracting some funds from companies as well. Besides the several bioassay/cell culture labs, there are two labs under my management. An isolation lab which is focusing on the purification of bioactive phytochemicals and has a series of instruments needed for extraction/fractionation/purification of natural products. The other lab is an analytical lab devoted to characterization/standardization/quantification of botanicals. Knowing that more than half of Echinacea products on the market, as an example, do not contain the right plant/part, helps to understand the need to do analysis. No one would like to pay for something with the wrong label. 

What I found with working ND students during the last couple of years is that they have a keen on research and they are curious about how’s and why’s. I think a research institute is a great addition to the educational/ clinical ND school and I am very excited to see this happening for Sonoran University. 

On the other note, I would like to share that I have been to nine countries and I have worked in three countries and I believe there are a lot of beautiful places and people out there to go and explore. I would rather discover that beauty myself instead of relying on what some media try to show about people!

To learn more:

My publication: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=zC-IWswAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao

My LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yalda-shokoohinia-0a010a37/ 

Research Institute: https://www.sonoran.edu/about-scnm/facilities/ric-scalzo-institute-for-botanical-research/


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