"These research centers are critical to helping us determine whether and by what mechanisms botanicals may serve as effective treatments or preventive approaches," said Stephen Straus, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is providing the funding along with the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).
The total pledged in the first year across all five centers comes to approximately $6.75 million.
Around 38.2 million American adults - 19 percent of the population - put their trust in non-vitamin, non-mineral natural products, mainly botanical supplements, according to the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2002.
The recipients of the funding will each investigate the use of different botanicals for diseases and conditions that are common in the American population.
The Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases, a collaborative program between Purdue University, the University of Alabama and Rutgers University, will look at the effects of polyphenols in preventing and treating conditions for age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, cognitive decline and cataracts.
The University of Illinois will continue a clinical trial at its Botanical Dietary Supplements for Women's Health program to determine if black cohosh and red clover provide relief of menopausal symptoms. It will also conduct basic and clinical research into the standardization, metabolism and toxicity of botanicals and support research training in pharmacognosy.
Researchers involved in the Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Rutgers University will investigate the effects of Russian tarragon, Shilianhua, and grape seed on molecular and cellular processes.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Research Center for Botanical Immunomodulators will investigate botanicals such as echinacea, astralgus, turmeric and maitake which reportedly have the ability to modulate immune function and see whether they may have a role in therapy for cancer and infectious diseases.
The Wake Forest and Harvard Center for Botanical Lipids will center its efforts on the anti-inflammatory actions of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from botanicals.
This project has four lines of inquiry: how flaxseed oil may protect against the build-up of fatty deposits in blood vessels, a condition known as atherosclerosis; echium oil's putative ability to reduce atherosclerosis by lowering triglycerides; the reduction of inflammatory messengers causing asthma, arthritis and other diseases by borage, fish and echium oils; and a clinical trial to determine whether borage and echium oils can be used in asthma treatment.
The University of Illinois and Purdue University were recipients of earlier NCCAM/ODS grants made when the NIH established its botanical research center initiative in 1999. The majority of the funding provided at that time was devoted to clinical trials involving botanicals. The new funding cycle represented a new focus for the agencies.
Although recognizing that the information that will be gleaned on the molecular-mechanistic operation of herbs in humans is important, ABC executive director Mark Blumenthal said he hopes the clinical study program will be given more weight in the future, offering further insight into the safety and efficacy of herbs.