Weekly Local Biography

  Dr. Surapol Natakankitkul

Dr. Surapol Natakankitkul is a very successful and internationally accredited academic. Currently the assistant professor of Pharmacy at Chiang Mai University, he has over 20 scientific papers to his credit, which he has authored or co-authored, and is acknowledged world-wide for his work in the application of herbs in medicine.

He was born in Nakhon Sawan, the son of a Thai-Chinese merchant, and he jokingly referred to the fact that he was born on April Fool’s Day, though it is obvious to anyone that Dr. Surapol is certainly no fool, April or otherwise!

As a young boy he became known for his charitable nature, forever taking beggars home and asking his mother for food to give to them. This was something that was innate.

He was a good student, finishing his secondary education at a government school in Bangkok, and by the time he graduated from there he knew that his future was in medicine. “I wanted to do something about the suffering of the poor, so that for me was something in the medical field.”

Selecting Pharmacy as his future he entered Chiang Mai University in 1975 to begin his five years as an undergraduate. Emerging with his Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy he went to Phayao to the 400 bed provincial hospital as a clinical pharmacist, but it was soon apparent that the new young pill dispenser was not going to just spend his time counting tablets. He was soon branching out to lecture in Pharmacology to the College of Nursing.

It was also soon apparent that the young pharmacist was going to be a high flyer. After three years in Phayao he went to Chulalongkorn University to study for and take his Master’s degree in Pharmacy, finishing in 1987.

By now there was no real stopping him. It was not going to be a case of going back to counting tablets ever again. There was more to come in his education. This turned out to be a scholarship from the Austrian government to go to Innsbruck University to study biotechnology. There he became involved in the multi-centered Human Genome project, to produce the first human DNA sequencing to unlock our own genetic make-up. He spent almost three years there, having had to first learn German and then write his thesis in that language to get his PhD in Analytical Chemistry and Biotechnology from Innsbruck University in 1991.

He returned to Thailand, and because of the scholarship requirements had to return to his original location at Phayao where he again worked in the hospital, but now at supervisor level. He also became involved with the hill tribe peoples, by becoming a volunteer in the Princess Mother’s projects. “This was a good chance for me to do something for the poor people.” Despite the rarefied atmosphere of academia, he had not forgotten just ‘why’ he had entered the medical field in the first place.

However, his progress in his profession continued too, and he returned to Chiang Mai University to become a lecturer, to impart his experience to the students, sitting where he himself had once been, thirsting for knowledge.

His need to do something for those less privileged than others in the community also took him into the service organizations and he joined Rotary International and these days is now the immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Chiang Mai North. He has also led Group Study Exchange teams of young people around the world, including to Australia.

But it does not stop there. He has other volunteer ‘jobs’ utilizing his talents, and he is working with the Royal Project Foundation in the investigation of pesticide residues on vegetables. Considering that he has authored scientific treatises (with other researchers) on such topics as the “Development of Analysis of Organophosphorus Insecticides Using Solid Phase Microextraction and Gas Chromatography”, Chiang Mai Medical Bulletin, and “Determination of Chlorate and its derivatives in Longan Fruits” for the same publication, you can see what a boon his volunteer work must be to the Royal Project.

The personal climb continued too, becoming the assistant dean (Academic affairs) in 1995, then associate dean (Student Affairs) in 1997 and rising to assistant professor three years later. He is also concurrently the deputy director of the University Academic Service Centre (UNISERV) in Chiang Mai.

He is involved in being a QA Auditor, for ISO 9000:2000 and Good Manufacturing Practices GMP/HACCP consultant and auditor for many hospitals in the north of Thailand.

With his academic qualifications, it then comes as no surprise to me that he has also become involved in quality control (QC) in the north, particularly where this relates to medicinal plants, taking him right into the ‘hot’ field at present, that of herbal remedies. In this regard, he is currently working with the Lanna Spa Association, as clinical science is applied to ‘local wisdom’. He has even been to China to look at the work that is being done there in this field, and has a trip planned to Japan for next year. The herbal work has the potential to assist mankind with the control of cholesterol, and into the ‘anti-aging’ effects that some of the Thai herbs are appearing to show.

By this stage in the interview I was becoming astounded at just what this relatively young man had accomplished. Not only had he served his time well in the cloistered halls of academia, but he was a keen amateur photographer, and even brought out some of his albums to show me. And he loved to travel. “Only the South Pole and the North Pole to go,” said the well travelled Dr. Surapol.

He has his personal credo that says, “Every minute is very valuable,” and he certainly lives by that. “I tell people don’t miss your chances,” he said. Dr. Surapol has certainly not overlooked any of his!

He wants more biotechnology work, combining government and private sectors, “I feel they need to be connected,” he says. Me? I’m exhausted!