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Office of the Vice President for Research

New $8 million NIH grant to fund Complementary and Alternative Medicine Center at UofSC

The University of South Carolina has received an $8 million grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This grant will continue the prestigious NIH Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) Center in the USC School of Medicine—one of only 11 centers of its kind in the United States.

The CAM Center, established in 2007 with an initial $6 million grant, studies inflammatory diseases that impact critical organs such as the heart, brain, liver and colon, leading to significant morbidity and mortality. The center, led by Drs. Prakash Nagarkatti and Mitzi Nagarkatti from the School of Medicine, investigates the efficacy of plant-derived products in alleviating the inflammation that underlies a wide variety of autoimmune and other major diseases. Ongoing projects at Center are exploring the benefits of resveratrol found in grape skin, compounds found in hemp seed oil and ginseng in assisting the body stave off multiple diseases.

Our position on the leading edge of biomedical discovery is what makes our research mission—and success—so exciting and inspiring.

— President Harris Pastides

USC president Harris Pastides congratulated the CAM Center team on its continued funding, and noted their potential for generating breakthroughs in inflammatory disease research. "In an era when National Institutes of Health funding is more competitive than ever, receiving continued funding for a prestigious research center is a major achievement. Such national recognition bolsters our university's innovative potential, giving us ever stronger opportunities to make the research breakthroughs that will have lasting, positive impacts on our world. Our position on the leading edge of biomedical discovery is what makes our research mission—and success—so exciting and inspiring."

Chronic inflammation is considered to be the underlying cause of a surprising number of major deadly diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease, obesity, certain types of cancer and diabetes. In addition to these leading causes of mortality, there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, hepatitis and arthritis, which are induced and exacerbated by inflammation.

"Currently, there is no cure for these diseases and moreover, the drugs available in the market exhibit significant side effects and are not very effective. Thus, there is dire need to develop new anti-inflammatory agents," said Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti. Many patients with inflammation-related diseases resort to alternative medicines, particularly natural products, in their search for relief. In the United States, people spend over $33.9 billion per year in out-of-pocket expenses on complementary and alternative medicines. This figure shows the market for treating inflammatory diseases with these medicines, along with the potential positive impact on quality of life, is enormous.

The new grant will enable the university's CAM Center to continue building on their years of momentum in testing various botanicals to identify agents that can suppress inflammation. The goal is to help develop new anti-inflammatory drugs that can be used to treat a wide array of clinical disorders.

"While the precise mechanisms that trigger inflammation are not clear, our research has shown that chronic inflammation may result from changes in diet, stress levels or environmental factors that negatively influence the human body's epigenome," Nagarkatti said. "The epigenome refers to chemical reactions that can alter the way a gene functions without changing the gene's structure. Thus, identifying how various plant products can alter the epigenome positively, to suppress inflammation, is a novel area of research that has great potential to lead to new pathways for treating inflammation."

Nearly half of the world's 25 best-selling pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, but of the more than 250,000 plant species on earth, only about 15 percent have been screened for pharmacological applications. The CAM Center is performing the research needed to identify potential new plant-derived pharmaceuticals by testing thousands of natural products to learn more about how they function, and how they might be used to develop new drugs.

Asian countries such as India and China have a long history of using herbal medicines extensively to treat a wide array of inflammatory diseases. Science has yet to uncover the key plant ingredients that impact inflammation and the precise ways these ingredients interact with the body to reduce inflammation. But, learning more about plant-derived anti-inflammatory substances, and how they can be harnessed for use in pharmaceutical applications, is a path that holds great promise.

The CAM Center will host a variety of interdisciplinary projects led by university faculty experts from the School of Medicine and beyond. The researchers at USC's CAM Center include Drs. Lorne Hofseth, Taixing Cui, Daping Fan, Saurabh Chatterjee, Narendra Singh and Jiajia Zhang, who represent the Arnold School of Public Health and the South Carolina College of Pharmacy, along with the School of Medicine. 

The $8 million grant announcement comes on heels of a record-setting year for the university for NIH, National Science Foundation and Department of Health and Human Services grant awards. In fiscal year 2014, the university was awarded more than $230 million, with more than $111 million from those three agencies alone.

16 September 2014

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