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NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Announces Research Awards

August 30, 2001
CONTACT: Rebecca B. Costello, Ph.D.
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
(301) 435-2920
[email protected]

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Announces Research Awards

Bethesda, MD--The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) today announced the funding of five new grants to explore the potential role of dietary supplements in health promotion and disease prevention. These new projects bring to 20 the number of studies that have been funded by the ODS in conjunction with NIH Institutes through the NIH Research Enhancement Awards Program (REAP).

The REAP program supports highly meritorious grant applications that fall at the border of an NIH Institute’s funding resources. Such applications that are within the research interests of ODS may be nominated by the Institute for full or partial funding by ODS. REAP was originally designed by the NIH Office of Women’s Health.

"These five grants continue to move the ODS into new exciting scientific areas about dietary supplements and health," said Dr. Paul Coates, Director of the ODS. "We’re enthusiastic about the positive response that the Institutes continue to give the REAP program and their interest in partnering with the ODS in support of these important projects."

St. Johns’s wort and drug interactions -- In conjunction with the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), the ODS is funding a clinical study at the University of Pittsburgh to examine the effect of St. John’s wort on the metabolism of several widely used medications. This herbal supplement has attracted attention from both the lay and scientific community for its potential use in the treatment of depression. Healthy men and women will be given several commonly used drugs before and after receiving two weeks administration of St. John’s wort or placebo. These studies are timely and relevant to further understand the metabolic processes and potential interactions of this herbal supplement with conventional medications.

B-vitamins and the brain -- The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the ODS will co-sponsor a project at the University of Southern California that will examine the relationship between B-vitamins and cognitive function. Aging is associated with an increased prevalence of vitamin deficiency and numerous studies have shown improvements in cognitive functions with vitamin supplementation, even in the absence of obvious vitamin deficiency. The study will test whether vitamin B supplements improve cognitive function compared to placebo in subjects with elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Isolating and identifying plant chemicals -- The ODS and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) will co-sponsor a study at the University of Texas at Austin to develop methods for the isolation, identification, and quantification of certain compounds, known as phenolic phytochemicals, in soybean, kale, citrus fruits, and other plants, as well as in clinical laboratory samples of tissue, plasma and urine. These compounds are notable for their estrogen-like and anti-oxidant activities and reputed anti-tumor and beneficial health properties. The proposed study includes conventional approaches currently used to analyze phytochemicals combined with a new methodology to improve the sensitivity and specificity of the analytical process. This basic research could lead to the development of innovative methods for analyzing metabolic processes and bioavailability of bioactive food and plant components.

Chromium for diabetes -- In cooperation with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the ODS is funding a project at the University of Vermont that will focus on the role of chromium in improving insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes. Type 2, or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes. It develops gradually, most often in people over 40 years of age. The use of chromium as a dietary supplement in patients with type 2 diabetes is widespread, but its safety and effectiveness have not been rigorously tested. Its potential mechanism of action in enhancing insulin sensitivity also is not well understood.

Zinc in HIV disease -- In collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the ODS will co-sponsor a grant at the Florida International University entitled “Zinc Therapy in Zinc Deficient HIV+ Drug Users.” This double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial will examine the nutritional aspects of HIV disease in injecting drug users. The investigators will study the role of zinc in delaying HIV disease progression and restoring immune response in HIV- positive injecting drug users receiving antiretroviral therapy. The findings from this study will document the need for supplemental zinc as an inexpensive adjuvant therapy in the treatment of immune-related diseases that occur in drug users.

Folic acid to prevent neural tube defects -- In addition to the five new REAP projects, the ODS will continue to co-sponsor a study initially funded through its 1999 REAP Awards with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to evaluate the role of folate receptors in the development of craniofacial malformations. Evidence acquired over the last 20 years suggests that prenatal folic acid supplementation can reduce the incidence of neural tube defects and cleft palates by about 50%. These malformations are among the most common of all human birth defects, yet their etiologic basis remains poorly understood. In this project, scientists will study mice that lack a specific binding protein for folate. Through a series of experiments where the genetic makeup and diets of the mice are manipulated, they hope to determine the function of these binding proteins during embryonic development of the offspring. This research could lead to a greater understanding of the protective effect of folic acid supplementation on embryonic development under varying nutrient and metabolic conditions.

The Office of Dietary Supplements was established at NIH in November 1995 as a result of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act passed by Congress in 1994. The goals of ODS are to: explore more fully the potential role of dietary supplements as a significant part of the efforts to improve health care; promote scientific study of dietary supplements in maintaining health and preventing chronic disease; and conduct and coordinate scientific research within the National Institutes of Health relating to dietary supplements. The ODS expects to continue to fund investigator-initiated awards through REAP, as well as through other mechanisms, as a means to expand research opportunities in the area of dietary supplements.