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NCCAM and ODS Co-Fund Five Botanical Research Centers

Revised April 25, 2005

(Austin, TX). The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) announced on April 7 that it has officially delivered notice of new joint funding to five university-based dietary supplement research centers from NCCAM and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), both agencies of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Botanical research centers were created previously to focus on basic research and clinical studies of botanical preparations. The focus of the new funding will be directed toward determining the mechanisms of action of these preparations and their active phytochemical constituents. According to a news release issued by NCCAM, “Research conducted by these centers will advance the scientific base of knowledge about the safety, effectiveness, and mechanisms of action of botanicals.”

Although much of the research funded by NCCAM and ODS in the past five years has focused on clinical trials on botanicals and phytomedicinal preparations, the new focus for research will be based primarily on mechanisms of action and constituent properties. Consistent with this new focus, few clinical trials will likely be conducted in the new five-year funding cycle, except where some trials are already ongoing, e.g., Phase II clinical trials on black cohosh and red clover currently being conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

“The change in direction of the research activities reflects NIH’s increased interest in determining the actual molecular-mechanistic basis for how herbal products operate in humans,” said Mark Blumenthal, Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) in Austin, Texas. “This type of information is important in documenting the way herbs work and is certainly needed and most welcome. It is also heartening to know that in the future, NCCAM and ODS will continue to fund additional human clinical trials of appropriate design to test the safety and efficacy of many popular herbs in the U.S. market.”

The five centers that were notified that the funding was activated on April 5, 2005 are: (1) Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases at Purdue University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Rutgers University; (2) Botanical Dietary Supplements for Women's Health Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, IL (UIC); (3) Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome at Pennington Biomedical Research Center of  Louisiana State University System, and Center of Agriculture and the Environment of Rutgers University; (4) MSKCC Research Center for Botanical Immunomodulators at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, The Rockefeller University, the Institute of Chinese Medicine, and the Chinese University; and (5) Wake Forest and Harvard Center for Botanical Lipids at Wake Forest University and Harvard University.

Two of the five centers-University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Purdue University-have been funded by previous NCCAM-ODS grants to establish botanical research centers and have been conducting research in their designated areas of interest for the past five years.

UIC will continue its work on botanicals for women’s health, specifically for menopause and premenstrual syndrome. The primary herbs being researched in this area are black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, syn. Cimicifuga racemosa), chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), dong quai (Angelica sinensis) and red clover (Trifolium pratense), in addition to several new plants that will be studied during the next five years.

The UIC Center Director is Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, Research Professor of Pharmacognosy and Senior University Scholar. Among his many internationally renowned duties, positions and consultancies, Prof. Farnsworth is the co-editor of the medicinal plant research journal Phytomedicine and is a founding and current member of the Board of Trustees of ABC.

The full NCCAM press release is available on the Internet ( and is pasted below, with the list of the five newly-funded centers and a brief description of their areas of research focus.

About the American Botanical Council

Established in 1988, the American Botanical Council (ABC) is the leading nonprofit, member-based organization educating consumers, healthcare professionals, researchers, educators, industry, and the media on the safe and effective use of herbs and medicinal plant products. ABC is located on a 2.5 acre site in Austin, Texas where it publishes HerbalGram, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal. ABC is also the publisher of The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, a continuing education module and reference book, which contains extensive therapeutic monographs on the safety and efficacy of 29 popular herbs, including black cohosh and chaste tree. More information is available at

NIH News Release

National Institutes of HealthU.S. Department of Health and Human Services

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)NIH Office of Dietary Supplements

For immediate release: Thursday, April 7, 2005

Contact: NCCAM Press Office, 301-496-7790

Five dietary supplement research centers focusing on studies of botanical products have been jointly funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), both components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Research conducted by these centers will advance the scientific base of knowledge about the safety, effectiveness, and mechanisms of action of botanicals.

Botanical products are widely used by many Americans despite a lack of evidence for most regarding whether they are safe or effective. The 2002 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 38.2 million American adults (about 19 percent) use nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products, primarily botanical supplements.

"Given that millions of Americans are using natural products, 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 E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. "The five centers we are funding will investigate the use of a variety of widely consumed botanicals, from flaxseed to tarragon, for a range of diseases and conditions that affect many Americans, such as asthma, atherosclerosis, cataracts, and cancer."

Details on the recipients of these 5-year botanical research center grants are listed below.

Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases Principal Investigator: Connie Weaver, Ph.D. Partner Institutions: Purdue University, West LaFayette, IN; University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Researchers in this collaborative program will investigate the health effects of polyphenols (a diverse group of chemical components widely distributed in plants) from sources such as soy and kudzu. They will study the ability of these agents to prevent and treat common conditions associated with aging, including osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and cataracts.

Botanical Dietary Supplements for Women's Health Principal Investigator: Norman Farnsworth, Ph.D. Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago, IL (UIC)

This center focuses on herbal supplements with implications for benefit in women's health. For example, UIC scientists are conducting a clinical trial to determine if black cohosh and red clover provide relief of menopausal symptoms including hot flashes. In addition to conducting basic and clinical research looking at standardization, metabolism, and toxicity of botanicals, the center will support research training in pharmacognosy (the study of natural products).

Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome Principal Investigator: William Cefalu, M.D. Partner Institutions: Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge, LA; Center of Agriculture and the Environment of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.

Researchers will study extracts of Russian tarragon, Shilianhua (a Chinese herbal product), and grape seed and how they may influence molecular and cellular processes associated with the metabolic syndrome, which consists of obesity, insulin resistance, development of type 2 diabetes, and accelerated cardiovascular disease.

MSKCC Research Center for Botanical Immunomodulators Co-Principal Investigators: Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., and Philip Livingston, M.D. Partner Institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY; The Rockefeller University, New York, NY; the Institute of Chinese Medicine and the Chinese University, Hong Kong, China

This center will investigate botanicals with reported ability to modulate immune function--echinacea, astralgus, turmeric, maitake, and a traditional Chinese formula--and their relevance for the treatment of cancer and infectious disease.

Wake Forest and Harvard Center for Botanical Lipids Principal Investigator: Floyd Chilton, Ph.D. Partner Institutions: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

This center will examine biological mechanisms and clinical applications of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from botanicals, such as flaxseed, echium, and borage. The studies will focus on the anti-inflammatory actions of botanical oils and their potential to prevent and treat inflammatory diseases, such as atherosclerosis and asthma.

"In 1999, NIH developed a botanical research center initiative with major research institutions across the nation," said Paul Coates, Ph.D., Director of ODS. "These five centers will continue to fulfill the goal of this initiative to foster interdisciplinary collaborative research, in order to identify potential health benefits and to develop a systematic evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of botanicals, particularly those available as dietary supplements."

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative medical (CAM) practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at

The mission of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, stimulating and supporting research, disseminating research results, and educating the public to foster an enhanced quality of life and health for the U.S. population. For additional information about ODS, visit