$35 million for cognitive & metabolic resilience, women’s health & cutting edge technologies: NIH’s natural product research projects

By Stephen DANIELLS

- Last updated on GMT

Led by the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the research projects will investigate the potential women's health benefits of botanical dietary supplements. Image © iStockPhoto / arekmalang
Led by the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the research projects will investigate the potential women's health benefits of botanical dietary supplements. Image © iStockPhoto / arekmalang

Related tags Natural products Medicine

Five research centers will focus on topics ranging from high-throughput functional annotation of natural products to botanicals for women’s health, with funding coming from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

“Natural products have a long and impressive history as sources of medicine and as important biological research tools,”​ said Josephine Briggs, MD, director of the NCCIH. “These centers will seek not only to understand potential mechanisms by which natural products may affect health, but also to address persistent technological challenges for this field by taking full advantage of innovative advances in biological and chemical methodology.”

“Our Botanical Research Centers Program has been a unique driver of research on natural products for 16 years,” ​added Paul M. Coates, PhD, director of the ODS. “The two new Centers for Advancing Natural Products Innovation and Technology will develop pioneering methods and techniques to catalyze research on these products”

Botanical centers

The three Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Centers (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Louisiana State University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago) will receive approximately $2 million per year for five years. These three centers will advance understanding of the mechanisms through which complex botanical dietary supplements may affect human health and resilience.

Giulio Pasinetti, MD, PhD, and Richard Dixon, PhD, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai will investigate the potential for dietary botanicals in the preservation of cognitive and psychological resilience. Specifically, the researchers will focus on the mechanisms through which polyphenol-containing dietary supplements derived from grapes promote cognitive and psychological resilience to common psychological stresses including sleep deprivation.

The Center will also seek to understand the role of the human microbiome in the activity of these bioactives, and in cognitive and psychological health more generally.

William Cefalu, MD, at Louisiana State University will lead research into the ability of botanicals to promote metabolic resiliency, the ability to maintain health in the presence of stressors such as high-fat diet or inflammation, and to study the mechanisms of action of the most promising botanicals in this context.

This center will also explore the role of the microbiome in the biological effects of the products studied including bitter melon and fenugreek.

Richard van Breemen, PhD, at the University of Illinois at Chicago will lead a research team investigating botanical dietary supplements for women’s health. This center, established in 1999, will seek to advance its ground-breaking work on the characterization and standardization of complex botanical products, and on the interactions of those products with estrogens and with prescription drugs with a continuing focus on safety.

Black cohosh
Many of the botanical supplements proposed for study by these centers — such as black cohosh (above), bitter melon, chasteberry, fenugreek, grape seed extract, hops, maca, milk thistle, resveratrol, licorice, and valerian — are among the top 100 supplements consumed in the United States based on sales data. Image: © iStockPhoto

Centers for Advancing Natural Products Innovation and Technology

These two centers will have a combined budget of $1.25 million per year for five years, and are expected to develop new research approaches and technologies that will have significant impact on the chemical and biological investigation of natural products.

Research teams led by John MacMillan, PhD, and Michael White, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Roger Linington, PhD, at Simon Fraser University (Canada), bring together experts in the chemistry of natural products, biological screening, data analytics, and bioinformatics to create a center focused on use of innovative strategies to study the biological effects of natural products.

Supplement_Pills © monticelllo
Nearly 20% of American adults use botanical supplements and other non-vitamin, non-mineral dietary supplements, such as fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics, according to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. Image © iStockPhoto / monticelllo

The team will develop innovative, cell-based screening approaches to uncover bioactive molecules of interest and their corresponding molecular targets in order to improve the speed, breadth, and precision of the chemical and biological characterization of natural products.

Finally, Guido Pauli, PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will lead research at the UIC Natural Products Technology Center aimed at coordinating and disseminating state-of-the-art research technologies aimed at mining bioanalytical knowledge of natural products. These activities will produce documentation of good research practices for natural products, and developing and sharing cutting-edge bioanalytical methodologies that address important biomedical questions.

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