NIH Renews Botanical Research Center Grant at Pennington Biomedical

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Released: Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Baton Rouge, LA – LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center will receive $9.2 million over the next five years from the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) to continue work investigating native plants, botanical extracts and other natural products as prospects for the prevention and treatment of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Pennington Biomedical, in collaboration with Rutgers University, has been home to the Center for Research on Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome (BRC) since 2005 - one of only five NIH-funded botanical research centers in the country and the only one focused primarily on obesity and diabetes. Pennington Biomedical's expertise in metabolic disease research is teamed with Rutgers University's plant science expertise on this initiative. Today's announcement marks the third 5-year renewal of the BRC for continued research and innovation to help combat diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity and heart disease.

"Diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome are among the most prominent chronic diseases facing patients around the world. Louisiana often leads the nation in the percentage of citizens affected by one or more of these conditions. Our work through the BRC is looking at new and better ways to prevent and treat these chronic diseases and enhance care," said Pennington Biomedical executive director William T. Cefalu, M.D., who also serves as principal investigator for the BRC.

"LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a research asset to the community, state and nation. Its innovative biomedical research has helped so many people who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, and this important funding will help them continue to put proven expertise to work. I am proud to see Pennington Biomedical able to expand the impact of its life changing solutions that are applied around the world from right here in Louisiana," added U.S. Congressman Garret Graves.   

In the past decade, scientists in the BRC at Pennington Biomedical have investigated various plant extracts for effectiveness and for their ability to treat abnormalities such as blood glucose elevation and insulin resistance. Over the next five years their efforts will focus on the science of resiliency, or how natural plant products may work to aid in the recovery of our bodies when challenged by diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The BRC will also explore the role of the gastrointestinal microbiome in the biological effects on the products studied including bitter melon and fenugreek.

"Natural products have a long and impressive history as sources of medicine and as important biological research tools," said Josephine Briggs, M.D., NCCIH director. "These centers will seek not only to understand potential mechanisms by which natural products may affect health, but also to address persistent technological challenges for this field by taking full advantage of innovative advances in biological and chemical methodology."

Scientists within the BRC have made noteworthy advances in discovering ways to better prevent and treat chronic disease, including:

  • Conducted the first human studies on Artemisia, a diverse genus of plant species. These studies are evaluating its role in treating prediabetes.
  • Moved forward in the study of bagasse fiber, a byproduct of sugarcane, which has shown effectiveness as a nutritional supplement to aid in controlling glucose and body weight in preclinical studies.
  • Worked with Rutgers University to evaluate a red lettuce that has added health benefits with components that may improve glucose metabolism.

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults use botanical supplements and other non-vitamin, non-mineral dietary supplements, such as fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics, according to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. Jacqueline Stephens, Ph.D., a professor at Pennington Biomedical and BRC co-investigator notes, "Consumers spend millions each year on nutritional supplements. The BRC and our counterparts work with the NIH to scientifically evaluate many of these supplements for their makeup and effectiveness. We utilize that data to learn what may have actual benefits for patients and we share what we learn to improve public health and consumer awareness."

"An in-depth study of botanicals on human metabolism as required to advance our understanding requires a multi-disciplinary, highly integrated comprehensive program. The collaboration between Pennington Biomedical and Rutgers is poised to continue such an approach" added Ilya Raskin, Ph.D., a professor at Rutgers University in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology.

The NIH also enables T-32 grants as part of large center funding awards like the BRC in an effort to prepare student-scientists for careers that have an impact on the health-related research needs of the nation. Ten early-career scientists have completed training to pursue careers in botanicals research through their work with the BRC, and four additional post-doctoral students are currently in training.

The BRC is a collaborative effort between Pennington Biomedical and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. The center is assisted in its mission with investigators from North Carolina State University in Kannapolis and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Key area partners include The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the USGS National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. This research is supported by grant number AT002776 from funding provided by NIH Office of Dietary Supplements and National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 

Learn more about the BRC:
Link to the NIH grant announcement:

Dr. Cefalu also holds Pennington Biomedical's George A. Bray, Jr. Endowed Super Chair in Nutrition. Dr. Stephens holds the Claude B. Pennington, Jr. Endowed Chair in Biomedical Research.


The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.