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New NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Announces First Research Awards

Tuesday, Dec. 17, 1996
CONTACT: Bernadette M. Marriott, Ph.D.
Office of Dietary Supplements
(301) 435-2920

New NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Announces First Research Awards

The newly established NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) today announced the funding of its first six research grants to explore the potential role of dietary supplements in health promotion and disease prevention. These studies will be funded by the ODS in conjunction with selected NIH Institutes through the NIH Research Enhancement Awards Program.

The NIH Research Enhancement Awards Program (REAP), originally designed by the NIH Office of Research on Women÷s Health, is a process whereby investigator-initiated grant applications are received and reviewed through the standard NIH peer review process. Highly meritorious applications that fall just outside an Institute's funding resources and are within the research interest of the ODS can be nominated by NIH Institutes to receive full or partial funding from ODS. The ODS has committed $270,000, or nearly 30 percent of its FY 1996 budget, to support these six grants in cooperation with five NIH Institutes.

"These six grants truly represent cutting edge research that will address some of the many unanswered questions about dietary supplements," said Dr. Bernadette M. Marriott, Director of the ODS. "We're very excited about the enthusiastic reception the Institutes have given the REAP program and their willingness to partner with the ODS in support of these important projects."

In conjunction with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the ODS will fund a study by Brown University investigators to examine the association between low blood levels of tryptophan and increased levels of alcohol abuse and dependency in Native Americans. Results of this research may help to clarify the potential role of dietary tryptophan intake in preventing alcohol addiction among populations at high risk.

The ODS will cosponsor two studies with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The first will be conducted by scientists at the University of Memphis who will examine the hypothesis that inadequate calcium intake combined with substantial losses of calcium through sweat can contribute to bone loss in people participating in intensive exercise. The researchers will test the effectiveness of calcium supplements in reducing short-term changes in bone density in male and female high school athletes. Previous studies of young male basketball players have shown actual decreases in bone density over the course of an intense training and playing season, an observation that could have far reaching implications for exercise in the general population.

The second ODS-NIAMS study will be conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The project will examine in rats the interactions between methotrexate treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and both dietary folic and folinic acid, which can affect the toxicity and/or effectiveness of methotrexate. Results of this study may contribute critical information for the development of new drugs to control arthritis as well as an improved understanding of the relationship between folate metabolism and inflammation and tissue injury seen in arthritis.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and ODS will cosponsor a study at the University of Michigan that will test the effects of dietary supplements in reducing or preventing the hearing loss that may occur with antibiotic therapy. This research may help answer questions about the relationship between nutrients and antibiotics and lead to more effective treatment strategies to prevent this form of hearing loss.

The ODS and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases will cosponsor a project at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to study dose-response patterns of vanadium, a trace element found in a number of spices and health food supplements. While vanadium has been shown to mimic the action of insulin and has been used to treat hyperglycemia in animals with diabetes, this study will assess the toxicity and safety concerns of vanadium use in humans.

The sixth study funded by ODS will be in conjunction with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and will be conducted by scientists at Vanderbilt University. Researchers there will use magnetic resonance imaging techniques to examine the effects of thiamine deficiency and its treatment on neurochemical markers in the brain. Thiamine deficiency, a frequent complication of alcoholism, can result in brain damage and severe deficits in cognitive function if left untreated. Results of this study will enhance the understanding of alcohol÷s effect on the brain and on thiamine deficiency related brain damage.

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 of the United States to improve health care; promote scientific study of the benefits of dietary supplements in maintaining health and 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 the REAP program as a means to expand research opportunities in the area of dietary supplements.