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Integrative Health Care and U.S. Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families

Innovative Research Centers Program investigates botanical dietary supplements and other natural products

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Five research centers will focus on the safety of natural products, on how they work within the body, and on the development of cutting-edge research technologies. The centers, jointly funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), include three Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Centers and two Centers for Advancing Natural Products Innovation and Technology. Natural products include a wide variety of substances produced by plants, bacteria, fungi, and animals that have historically been used in traditional medicine and other complementary and integrative health practices.

Many of the botanical supplements proposed for study by these centers—such as black cohosh, 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. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. 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.

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

The three Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Centers will receive competitive awards of approximately $2 million per year for five years, pending available funds. These three interdisciplinary and collaborative centers will advance understanding of the mechanisms through which complex botanical dietary supplements may affect human health and resilience.

The two Centers for Advancing Natural Products Innovation and Technology have a combined budget of approximately $1.25 million per year for five years, pending available funds. These centers are expected to develop new research approaches and technologies that will have significant impact on the chemical and biological investigation of natural products. They will also provide leadership in coordinating scientific discourse and disseminating innovative methodology and good research practices to the research community on natural products.

“Natural products have a long and impressive history as sources of medicine and as important biological research tools,” said Josephine Briggs, M.D., NCCIH director. “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.”

Dietary Botanicals in the Preservation of Cognitive and Psychological Resilience

Principal Investigators: Giulio Pasinetti, M.D. Ph.D., and Richard Dixon, Ph.D. Institution: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City Partner Institutions: Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick; University of North Texas, Denton

This new Center 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. In addition to extending their previous research on the mechanisms of action of these botanical products in the brain, this Center will also seek to understand the role of the human gastrointestinal microflora (microbiome) in their activity and in cognitive and psychological health more generally.

Botanicals and Metabolic Resiliency

Principal Investigator: William Cefalu, M.D. Institution: Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge Partner Institutions: North Carolina State University, Kannapolis; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick; University of Illinois at Chicago

Over the last five years this center focused on the evaluation of botanicals to prevent metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. In the next five years the team will focus on 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 gastrointestinal microbiome in the biological effects of the products studied including bitter melon and fenugreek.

Botanical Dietary Supplements for Women’s Health

Principal Investigator: Richard van Breemen, Ph.D. Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago

Established in 1999, this center focuses on the safety and mechanisms of action of botanicals used by American women to maintain health and quality of life, especially during menopause. Previously, the team focused on the safety of commonly used dietary supplements such as black cohosh, hops, and licorice, and their effects on estrogenic hormones. In the next award period the team will 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.

The Center for High-throughput Functional Annotation of Natural Products

Principal Investigators: John MacMillan, Ph.D., Roger Linington, Ph.D., and Michael White, Ph.D. Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; University of California, Santa Cruz

This team brings 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. To improve the speed, breadth, and precision of the chemical and biological characterization of natural products, the team will develop innovative, cell-based screening approaches to uncover bioactive molecules of interest and their corresponding molecular targets. A vital component of this center will be the dissemination of primary data to the greater scientific community through a searchable, data-driven website.

The UIC Natural Products Technology Center

Principal Investigator: Guido Pauli, Ph.D. Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago

The primary objective of this center is to coordinate and disseminate 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 promote the coherence of outcomes between it and the above-mentioned Center for High-throughput Functional Annotation of Natural Products. This center will also develop and share cutting-edge bioanalytical methodologies that address important biomedical questions and advance a more holistic research approach regarding natural products and their metabolomic complexity.

The Office of Dietary Supplements initiated the Botanical Research Centers Program in partnership with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in 1999, in response to a Congressional mandate.

To learn more about the Botanical Research Centers Program, visit


About the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH):
NCCIH’s mission is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health approaches and their roles in improving health and health care. For additional information, call NCCIH’s Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226. Follow us on X, Facebook , and YouTube.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit