University of Missouri is one of only five universities in the U.S. to receive NIH program designation
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Americans spend $25 billion a year on dietary supplement products, such as herbs and other botanicals. While the Nutrition Business Journal forecasts sales of botanical dietary supplements will increase by about 19 percent over the next five years, scientists still don’t know the precise properties that make certain plants helpful or harmful to humans. Now, with a new $7.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, University of Missouri (MU) researchers have created a national botanical research center to answer these questions.
“Despite their widespread use, the safety and efficacy of these products have not been adequately studied,” said Dennis Lubahn, principal investigator of the project, director of the center at MU and a professor of biochemistry and child health in the School of Medicine and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
MU’s Center for Botanical Interaction Studies will focus on five different plants and their abilities to aid in the prevention of strokes and prostate cancer, as well as improve resistance to infectious diseases. Garlic, elderberries and soy are among the botanicals that will be studied.
Grace Sun, professor of biochemistry, pathology and anatomical sciences and a member of the MU Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, will lead a team of neuroscientists to investigate how botanicals may suppress stroke damage in the brain. The brain consumes 20 percent of circulating oxygen in our body and uses oxygen for many reactions, Sun said.
“Plants contain an array of chemicals that help our bodies cope with oxygen and oxidative stress,” said Kevin Fritsche, a project leader for the grant and professor of animal sciences, nutritional sciences and molecular microbiology and immunology in the MU School of Medicine and College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “Oxygen is essential for life, but when it’s handled inappropriately by the body’s cells, oxygen can have damaging toxic effects to body function and lead to disease.”
A team of more than 20 human, animal and plant scientists at MU will study how the botanicals use antioxidant properties to protect people from disease.
Because the potency of wild plants can vary, researchers at MU and elsewhere are cultivating their own. MU is cultivating 600 types of soybean seeds to study different concentrations of the same compounds in the plants and how they might work to prevent prostate cancer. MU also is growing 60 types of elderberries to study the plant’s possible role in boosting the immune system against infection and fighting cancer and inflammation in the body. Lubahn said there may be variations in individual plants that will make a difference in how well they fight disease.