Announcement: Dr. Helen Sheridan Joins KHNI Scientific Advisory Council

Published on: Mar 26 2024

Helen Sheridan

Professor Helen Sheridan BSc, MA, PhD, FRSC, FTCD:


Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute is pleased to announce that Dr. Helen Sheridan has joined our Scientific Advisory Council.

Helen is a Professor in Natural Product Science at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SoPPS) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). She is founder and academic director of the NatPro Centre for Natural Product Research located at TCD (2019 – to date).  She completed her B. Sc in University College Dublin (UCD) with first class honours Helen completed her Ph. D in Natural product Chemistry in UCD (1980-3). She was awarded a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Travelling Fellowship which she held at Oxford University under the direction of Professor Sir Jack Baldwin. She also had a subsequent period of research supported by the Irish and French Governments at the CNRS at Gif-sur-Yvette, Paris in the research group of Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Derek Barton. Helen returned to UCD on an Irish Government Fellowship and carried our research and teaching there, in the area of natural products before taking up her academic position in the SoPPS at TCD.

What specific areas within natural extracts and botanicals are your primary areas of expertise?

My research is multidisciplinary and is informed by the natural world, ethnomedical practice, computer aided drug design, systems pharmacology (SP), molecular networking analysis (MNA), government and international policy. I have worked with most classes of phytochemical over my career and have worked with a variety of sources including plants (terrestrial and marine), fungi, their extracts, essential oils and exudates. I have also a lot of experience in cell tissue culture and biotechnology. I have been actively involved in researching ethnomedicines from different traditional health systems across the globe. I have worked with species from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, Traditional African, South American, European, and North American healing systems. In addition, my group is exploring traditional medicine (TM) in Sub-Saharan-Africa in the context of a changing global healthcare landscape, using a community in West Pokot County, Kenya as a case study. We partook in a workshop with the Kenyan government and the Masai people exploring the impact of international regulation on traditional practices.  I have also supervised research studies in Sub-Saharan Africa in Kenya, Rwanda and Malawi.  I have spent more than 20 years as advisor to the Irish Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA). I brought a first-in-class, nature inspired molecule through a programme of discovery, lead optimisation,  Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) synthesis, pre-clinical evaluation, regulatory approval, and progression through Phase 1 Clinical Trials for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

How do you stay abreast of the latest scientific research and innovations in natural extracts and botanicals?

In the last number of years, it has seemed easier to stay abreast of the literature, but in some ways it has become more challenging. Nowadays many journals are online due to Open Access policies, but that does not mean that the less visible literature is without its value. Fortunately, I have access through the TCD libraries to the most relevant literature in the sciences and more specifically in the field of natural products and botanicals.  However, there is also an overload of information, and it requires additional effort to overcome this challenge and to ensure the quality of the material we access, which is fundamental to staying abreast with what is really happening. I like to use online professional platforms to benefit from the input of my respected peers in terms of their current activities. This also is useful for mapping innovations and regulatory changes that might be coming down the track.

Can you share any experiences where you’ve addressed sustainability challenges in your work?

In NatPro the Trinity Center for natural product research we have been focussed on sustainability challenges from the setup of the centre. Natural products and botanicals have played a central role in health and commerce across the globe. Plants, plant parts and their extracts and exudates are constituents of traditional medicines and phyto-therapeutics for centuries. In more recent years they have been central to the expanding nutraceutical, functional food and cosmetics industries and are found in many self-care and wellbeing products. The increasing global engagement with natural products, the changes brought about by global warming and geopolitical instabilities threatens the sustainable supply of materials. Our strategy is to map and audit quality suppliers and educate producers and consumers about the need for quality control when they are engaging with new suppliers. A second approach is to look at natural product waste biomass and engage with valorising that material toward novel healthcare products and solutions. Finally, though our engagement with the Irish Government and representative bodies as we investigate and prioritise potential new natural product crops for Ireland to address challenges of sustainability and feed into the bioeconomy. In addition, the NatPro Centre, under my leadership, was awarded the highest Level of Green Certification by MyGreenLab, a non-profit organisation focusing on building a global culture of sustainability in science. This timely award contributes to TCD’s ongoing efforts to expand its sustainability and Green Footprint

In your experience, what are some common challenges faced when working with natural extracts and botanicals, and how have you overcome them?

I feel that the biggest challenges are linked to Quality and sustainability. A significant challenge relates to variability in the quality of plant materials on sale on international markets. There are very significant problems with quality of bulk material where numerous scientific studies have identified intentional adulteration of samples or intentional falsification of the content of plant extracts. One small example is that steroids or stimulants have in some cases been added to extracts and products to give a response claimed to be associated with a natural product in a formula. Such issues can be identified by laboratory analysis. Another serious issue is again related to quality and to consumer vulnerability, with products sold on-line, falsified, and adulterated. I work with international partners, overviewing best practice, recommending methodology and future directions for quality assurance using metabolic profiling, component analysis and purification of secondary metabolites and sustainable production following Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and Good Agricultural and Collection Practice (GACP) guidelines.

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