Pharmacy professor Dr. Moji Christianah Adeyeye shares how the sequence of her life’s events brought her to Roosvelt and the realization of her true calling.
By Moji Christianah Adeyeye | From the Spring 2011 issue of Roosevelt Review
The early years
My calling began more than 50 years ago when, as a young girl in my native country of Nigeria, I saw my mother caring for a homeless man. He was dirty, smelly and people tried to stay away from him. Yet my mother started a conversation with him and gave him food.
As a kid, I kept thinking about that encounter. Up until that point, I rarely saw people who were homeless and I asked myself why people in such a desperate situation didn’t get help. As I grew up, the incident stayed with me as I remembered one of my favorite Sunday School stories about the importance that Jesus placed on social justice, in particular the parable he told about caring for vulnerable people.
I came from a family of eight sisters and five brothers and grew up quickly because I was the second-to-last child. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were not poor. I was partly raised under the wings of my grandmother, whose house my younger sibling and I often returned to after school to help with whatever she needed done. My grandmother and my mother were strong Christians and their influence on me has been lifelong.
I left my hometown in Southwestern Nigeria to go to a larger city, Ibadan, with my senior sister, Abike, (a primary school teacher) who cared for me as part of our extended African family social network. My sister, who was now my guardian, was a disciplinarian who taught me to work hard, be content with limited resources and always know that education is a gift. She also taught me independence and how to survive away from home. My elementary school was about six miles from home and I walked to it most of the time. I attended an all-girls Anglican mission private high school in the same city and later attended as a boarding student until I finished in 1968. My sister paid my way through school, raising me along with her six daughters. Caring for my nieces became a springboard for the sensitivity I developed for the vulnerability of children.
Another important part of my early life that shaped my future was the use of herbal products. My grandmother and mother treated our simple ailments with natural products. This etched in my mind the role of medicines (natural and synthetic) on wellness. I was very good in chemistry, especially organic chemistry, another piece of the puzzle that was shaping my future.
After receiving a great education in the Anglican high school, I decided my career goal was to become a medical doctor and set up a private hospital. However, after high school, I discovered a notebook containing a formulary of herbal products developed by my paternal grandfather that was kept by a cousin. I looked through his notebook and saw medicinal recipes for different types of diseases, from anti-helminthics, anti-malarials, to benign tumors (termed female “boils”) to malignant tumors (male “boils”). I became intrigued with the idea of making medicines. This led me to change my dream of becoming a doctor of medicine to that of becoming a pharmacist or maker of medicines.
I worked in the state hospital as an X-ray technician for two years, before heading to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to study pharmacy in 1971 soon after the civil war ended in my country. I strongly believe that my decision to study pharmacy was divine and part of God’s purpose for me because, as I would realize in later years, the stage was being set for a higher service.
College years and faith
My early college years were financially rough because my sister’s family had grown to six children. She contacted her friends and our family members to help me, knowing that I would be the first college graduate in my extended family. I remember her saying that she would sell her wardrobe to be sure that I received a college education. I also sought the help of my friends who contributed toward the first semester.
I was able to raise the first semester’s tuition a day before making the journey to the eastern part of Nigeria where my college was located. But I didn’t know how I would get the fare for the trip, not to mention pocket money for other needs. However, the morning I was leaving, neighbors gave me farewell money that added up to just what I needed for the journey. I knew that with the first semester’s fee, I would eat, receive accommodations on campus and attend lectures. I really didn’t care much about any other thing so long as I had the opportunity to attend classes. But I was mistaken because I didn’t have books, making it difficult for me to follow up on assignments. In addition, because the civil war had just ended a year before in this part of the country and the university was at the center of the war, I was frequently ill due to the bad food and limited conveniences. As a result, I didn’t perform very well my first year.
I found out what it means to be a poor student despite being gifted intellectually and how financial poverty can ruin a dream. This is why student scholarships, to which I know Roosevelt University is highly committed, can be life-changing for many students. I worked every summer to raise money for upkeep and books.
I became fascinated with one particular course, pharmaceutics, even though I found it most challenging. I was doing better in pharmacology and pharmaceutical chemistry, but the science of putting components together to make a formulation that could make somebody better was alluring. Meanwhile, my fascination with organic chemistry helped since most of the materials we use in pharmacy to make medicines are organic compounds. It comes easily for me to envision how to put materials together and change parameters in order to make the formulation work better.
I am a perfectionist and I began to use this trait to aid my passion for formulation development because the goal is to come up with a “perfect” formulation. I remember bringing exercises from the lab and displaying them in my dorm room, knowing that this is what I would like to do for the rest of my life. What I believe God called me to do was finding me.
This was reinforced after I spent a summer interning with a pharmaceutical company, Sterling Winthrop of Nigeria, in 1975. I was exposed to various stages of manufacturing drug products. What captured my attention the most was the quality-control lab where I assisted in determining whether a drug after quarantine should be released after meeting the specifications or should be destroyed. On one occasion, I helped empty hundreds of bottles of one of the products, Milk of Magnesia. After that summer, I knew I would like to be a teacher or researcher to make good-quality drug products.
Immigration to the USA
In 1977 I married Olusola Adeyeye and put off my dream of going to graduate school for a while and worked as a pharmacist to cope with the first few years of marriage. With our two daughters (Tobi and Ibukun), we immigrated to the United States in 1980. I stayed at home until 1982 when I started graduate school at the University of Georgia. I gave birth to my son (Temi) during graduate school. Those were productive but challenging years. In graduate school I realized that my purpose for studying pharmacy had not been fulfilled. However, I didn’t fully know how things would unfold.
I worked hard and was recognized with an award as one of the best graduate students in my college. I received my master’s and PhD in 1985 and 1988, respectively.
Clarity of Purpose
I took my first faculty job in 1988 with the University of Puerto Rico where I spent one year. I had to go to Puerto Rico because as a woman in my field of pharmaceutics, it was difficult at that time to secure a faculty position. I moved back to the mainland United States in 1989 to start a 21-year career at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, having demonstrated that I could teach as well as any man.
During my time at Duquesne, I became successful as a faculty member, educator and researcher, while maintaining my role as a wife and mother. There were challenges as a professor/mom but I kept things in perspective, knowing I am first a wife/mother and then a professor.
As time went on, there was some restlessness within me that grew into dissatisfaction. Despite being recognized for my scholarship and being awarded a full professorship, I knew I needed to do more for humanity. I decided to start caring for motherless children, because my husband’s mother died of food-allergy related causes when he was 9 years old. He became a surrogate mother for his surviving 4-year-old brother. To honor my mother-in-law, I set up a fund for motherless babies in our church in Nigeria. Not long after, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS led to a shift in my focus to children with HIV/AIDS and their families.
At the peak of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, I was awakened to the devastation in Africa and my native Nigeria after listening in 2001 to a young South African boy who was on the verge of death from HIV/AIDS. His name was Nkosi Johnson. He was pleading to the world on CNN not to discriminate against children suffering from HIV/AIDS; he said that it was not their fault. He was 12 years old, very articulate but very ill. Sadly, he died within a year of the broadcast. About six years earlier, I had worked on anti-retroviral drugs in my lab to improve the delivery of the drugs in HIV/AIDS patients, but I met some roadblocks and backed off. However in 2001, I was tired of sitting on the sidelines. I knew then that I was being called to do the right thing.
Finding My True Calling
I heeded the call and changed to some extent my life’s course, both personal and academic. I refocused my caring for children with HIV/AIDS to the surviving parent or grandparent. I knew I had to make a trip to Africa, specifically Nigeria. In 2003, I did and soon found the learning curve to be steep as care and treatment for HIV/AIDS patients were evolving on a monthly basis in terms of understanding the logistics needed to accomplish the goals. My learning was boosted by a J. William Fulbright Senior Scholar Award I received in 2004-05 for African-area AIDS research that took me back to Nigeria.
I began by establishing a non-profit organization, Drugs for AIDS and HIV Patients (DAHP) (www.dahp.net), bringing medicines for opportunistic infections caused by HIV/AIDS to Nigeria. Through donations of church members and friends, the organization started by supplementing living allowances to a handful of women with HIV/AIDS and providing clothing, food and some school items to children. In 2008, I opened Sarah’s Orphan Home after two of the children to whom we provided essential food died from non-HIV/AIDS childhood illnesses without DAHP’s prior knowledge of the illnesses.
Simultaneously at Duquesne University, I started developing HIV/AIDS formulations that children can tolerate. This led to submission of an investigational new drug (IND) application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and approval to proceed to conduct a clinical trial. My calling indeed found me, based on my passion for children suffering from HIV/AIDS, my gift and vocation of making/manufacturing formulations and the opportunity (to which God called me almost 40 years ago) of being a pharmacist from Nigeria, the country with the third-largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. I am pleased to say we have made considerable progress in developing some products for the FDA-approved clinical trials, so access to the drugs could be realized soon for children in developing countries. For all these efforts, I was recognized with the university’s President’s Award for Excellence in Service in 2008.
Moving Forward—Clinical Trials
The FDA approval to conduct Phase One of the clinical trial was obtained in partnership with a socially conscious small start-up company, Elim Pediatric Pharmaceuticals Inc., a specialty small business dedicated to developing and manufacturing children’s medications.
All of our drugs are designed to be age-appropriate for children. A successful clinical trial will allow the products to be given consideration for early marketing and access to children who need treatment all over the world, especially Africa where more than 75 percent of children with HIV/AIDS reside.
Roosevelt University and the College of Pharmacy
My calling has now led me to being an inaugural faculty member and a founding chair in Roosevelt University’s new College of Pharmacy in Schaumburg where I have an opportunity to continue my social justice work. Roosevelt added to the wind beneath my wings by giving me a seed grant from Joseph Hanauer, a Roosevelt University trustee, to initiate a clinical trial that has begun at Bowen University Teaching Hospital, Ogbomoso, in Nigeria. Further clinical trial research will be conducted at Roosevelt University for the two products under study plus five other products that are yet to be scaled up.
Through this work, the College of Pharmacy can become a center for pediatric drug product research and development of drugs to combat HIV/ AIDS. We also plan to create a Translational Research Laboratory. The lab will be involved with the following: good laboratory practices, analysis of drugs, preparing for clinical batch manufacturing and screening volunteers to participate in clinical trials.
With adequate funding that is desperately needed, children from birth to age 14 years can have access to the HIV/AIDS drug products. The plan is for other faculty and our pharmacy students to become involved in the lab and/or gain clinical practice experience during future trials. All of these, I believe, will underscore the College of Pharmacy’s commitment to social justice while we educate committed, competent and compassionate pharmacy practitioners.
Moji Christianah Adeyeye has been in the pharmacy profession for more than 35 years, including more than two decades in pharmacy education. Before joining Roosevelt’s College of Pharmacy in 2010, she was a member of the graduate faculty at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Adeyeye, the recipient of major awards for research and social activism, is responsible for the college’s faculty recruitment, mentoring and bio-pharmaceutical research programs. She also will teach and conduct research.