Rutgers' Tabasco Sauce connection


New center to investigate the effect of plant extracts on metabolic syndrome

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers University plant scientists are truly into something hot. They are working with a research laboratory named for the late Tabasco® Pepper Sauce heir, John S. McIlhenny, and built with a gift from the trust he established, the Coypu Foundation. The lab is part of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, a campus of the Louisiana State University system. At this facility, researchers collaborating with Rutgers colleagues will investigate whether plant extracts can cut risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes or other serious illnesses.

An $8 million, five-year botanical research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will enable Rutgers plant scientists to collaborate with Pennington researchers in forming the NIH Center for Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome, one of five newly funded NIH dietary supplement research centers.

Center researchers will study the effects of plant extracts on metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors that predispose a person to potentially life-threatening disorders. Common risk factors include obesity, hypertension and high insulin levels. In combination, the risk factors can produce a whole – the syndrome – that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

This center is one of five NIH dietary supplement research centers, jointly funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Office of Dietary Supplements, focusing on studies of botanical products.

With $1.4 million from the NIH grant and matching funds from Rutgers, research will be conducted in the laboratory of Ilya Raskin at the Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment on Rutgers' Cook College campus.

"We will grow most of the plants and use biochemistry to isolate the bioactive compounds," said Raskin, professor of plant science at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and associate director of the new NIH center. "We will determine which chemical compounds in the plants have therapeutic potential and, with the assistance of the LSU Agricultural Center, learn how to best grow them to produce the highest concentrations of the compounds."

The "Tabasco contingent," led by Pennington's Dr. William Cefalu, NIH center director, will do the medical testing and, in the third and fourth years of the study, conduct the human clinical trials. Pennington, the largest academically based nutrition research center in the world, conducts both clinical and basic research and is acknowledged to be the premier institution in its field.

"Metabolic syndrome represents one of the most important public health problems facing our society as the prevalence is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide," Cefalu said.

The treatment of metabolic syndrome is a particularly promising area for botanicals because the complex syndrome has many different targets. Most botanicals derive their effectiveness from a mixture of active molecules, acting in concert. Multiple agents attacking multiple targets simultaneously present decided advantages over conventional drugs which are each based on one compound that produces one action, Raskin explained. "When you have a complex condition like metabolic syndrome in which so many things can go wrong, it will not be possible to deal with all of them with just one single chemical," he said.

In addition to the metabolic syndrome center, Rutgers is a partner in the NIH Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases with Purdue University, another of the five new NIH research centers. Yet another botanical initiative is Rutgers' International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups Central Asia Program, funded with $3.5 million from NIH. One of this program's objectives is to improve human health through drug discovery based on plants newly collected in the field.

Rutgers' spin-off, Phytomedics Inc., co-founded by Raskin, has brought $5 million in grant funding to the university, stimulating research on botanical therapeutics. Clearly, Rutgers is becoming a true world leader in the area of plants and human health on many fronts.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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