WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Wake Forest University School of Medicine has received a $7.5 million grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) to open a research center to study dietary supplements. The school of medicine, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, is one of five centers nationwide selected for funding.
Research conducted by the funded centers will explore the safety, effectiveness, and mechanisms of botanicals, which are plant-based dietary supplements.
The Wake Forest center is a partnership with Harvard Medical Center and will be known as the Wake Forest and Harvard Center for Botanical Lipids. The center will examine biological mechanisms and clinical applications of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from plants such as flaxseed, echium, also known as blueweed, and borage, an herb.
The studies will focus on the anti-inflammatory actions of these oils and their potential to prevent and treat inflammatory diseases, such as atherosclerosis and asthma. It is estimated that within the next two decades, more than one in three people in the United States will suffer from an inflammatory disease.
Floyd “Ski” Chilton, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, will be the center director, overseeing four major projects of the center as well as directing educational and community outreach in the area of complementary and alternative medicine. Three major projects will be carried out at Wake Forest and one at Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard Medical Center.
At Wake Forest, one project will examine how flaxseed oil may protect against atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels. A second project will explore the hypothesis that a rare oil found in nature known as echium reduces atherosclerosis by lowering triglycerides. Project 3 examines how borage, marine (fish) and echium oils reduce inflammatory messengers that cause diseases such as asthma and arthritis.
A fourth project, based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is a clinical trial designed to determine whether borage/echium oils can be used to treat asthma.
“People are desperately searching for better, more natural ways to take control of their health,” said Chilton. “By funding this center, NIH has provided us with an incredible opportunity to determine the therapeutic potential of fatty acids found in several natural oils to treat sufferers of many of the most common diseases that affect mankind.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, of which NCCAM and ODS are part, botanical products are widely used by Americans despite a lack of evidence of 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."
Other projects receiving funding are the Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases (Purdue University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Rutgers University), the Botanical Dietary Supplements for Women's Health (University of Illinois at Chicago), Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome (Louisiana State University System and the Center of Agriculture and the Environment of Rutgers University) and the MSKCC Research Center for Botanical Immunomodulators (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, The Rockefeller University, and the Institute of Chinese Medicine and the Chinese University, Hong Kong, China).
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About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,298 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.