September 20, 2000
BIRMINGHAM, AL — Components of soy, kudzu, grapes, and other plants will be studied for possible health benefits by UAB scientists through collaboration with a new federal Center for Dietary Supplements Research on Botanicals being announced at 12 noon, September 20, by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The center is headquartered at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. A second center is being established at the University of Arizona. Centers at UCLA and the University of Illinois-Chicago were created last year.
Stephen Barnes, Ph.D., UAB professor of pharmacology and toxicology and an internationally known researcher on soy, was named associate director of the Purdue center. He and Helen Kim, Ph.D., UAB research associate professor, will direct two of the four funded research projects. He also will direct one of the four core facilities supporting the Purdue center.
The NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements, in collaboration with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, provided the grant funding, which will equal more than $400,000 a year for five years just at UAB.
“The Botanical Centers are dedicated to advancing the scientific knowledge about the safety and efficacy of botanical dietary supplements,” Barnes said. “The Purdue center will focus on botanicals that are widely used to prevent or treat age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, osteoporosis, and loss of cognitive function. Our researchers also will look at how these compounds might extend life and improve its quality in later years.”
The center will identify, collect and analyze botanicals that contain a group of plant compounds called polyphenols, and test them in models of chronic disease. Polyphenols are found in large amounts in familiar edible plants such as grapes, green tea and soy, as well as more recently introduced botanicals prepared from red clover and kudzu.
“Widespread use of dietary botanical supplements by the American public makes it imperative to obtain more scientific information on such preparations to help health practitioners and consumers more effectively evaluate and use these products,” Barnes said. "Recent research indicates that 40 percent of patients experiencing symptoms of a chronic disease start their treatment by the use of botanical dietary supplements.
“In fact, some 80 percent of all agents used to prevent or treat disease throughout the world are botanicals. Part of our effort is to understand the basis of how such existing botanical compounds work, and then to evaluate new ones that until now have been more familiar to peoples in other cultures.“
UAB will be especially involved in studying the bioavailability of the botanical compounds — determining where they go in the body and how they may be absorbed. Researchers here and in Indiana will use an UAB-based mass spectrometry facility to develop ways to measure the tiny amounts of the compounds and their byproducts that pass between individual cells in tissues affected by chronic disease.
Kim’s research project will examine the role of polyphenols found in grapes, and therefore red wine, in preventing aging-related changes in the brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Barnes and his colleagues will investigate the way polyphenols are used in the body at tissue sites where inflammatory cells accumulate, such as cancer tumors and atherosclerosis.
In addition to research programs, the center will develop educational programs on botanicals for health practitioners and consumers. “At present there are few scientists qualified to work in this area of pharmacology, so part of our task will be to develop training programs and integrate teaching of botanicals into the medical school curricula,” Barnes said. Kim currently teaches a medical school class in alternative and complementary medicine.
The Purdue Botanical Center also will involve BioAnalytical Systems (BAS), a private corporation in West Lafayette, Ind. The center will draw on the expertise of scientists from many disciplines. At UAB this will involve investigators from the departments of pharmacology and toxicology, cell biology, pathology, and anesthesiology, as well as the Center for Free Radical Biology and the Comprehensive Cancer Center.
FOR REPORTERS’ REFERENCE:
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements:
NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:
Stephen Barnes, Ph.D. e-mail:
Helen Kim, Ph.D. e-mail:
Stephen Barnes, Ph.D.
Purdue-UAB Botanicals Center
Stephen Barnes was born in London, England. His undergraduate training was in Applied Chemistry at the University of Surrey. He began his interest in research by studying how green algae synthesize fatty acids while working as a student at Unilever (a major Anglo-Dutch food and domestic products manufacturer) with Professor Tony James, co-inventor of gas-liquid chromatography. His graduate training was in the lab of Nobel Laureate Sir Ernst Chain (Medicine, 1945), the co-discoverer of penicillin, in the Department of Biochemistry at Imperial College, University of London, where he examined the metabolism of the acellular slime mold, Physarum polycephalum.
His postdoctoral training was in the biochemistry and pathology of the liver disease under the tutelage of Dame Sheila Sherlock at the Royal Free Hospital, London, England. In 1975 he was invited to work at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. This experience ignited his interest in American science, leading to his recruitment to UAB in 1977. He is currently Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics in the School of Medicine at UAB, Professor of Environmental Sciences in the School of Public Health, and is the Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center Mass Spectrometry Shared Facility.
Although he continues to be well known for his work on enzymes that metabolize bile acids in the liver, it was a decision in 1985 to try to understand why the rates of breast cancer vary so much from nation to nation that led to an international reputation for his research on soy. His initial interest has expanded to other chronic diseases, particularly atherosclerosis, where he has been able to interact fruitfully with many colleagues in the Free Radical Biology Center and the Hypertension Program. Soy contains a group of polyphenols called isoflavones and since these may be the active ingredients, many formulations of soy isoflavone extracts have appeared as botanical preparations in pharmacies and health food stores. The functions of these isoflavones and polyphenols in other botanicals in chronic diseases will be a focus of interest of the newly established, Purdue-UAB Botanicals Center
Dr. Barnes’ expertise is in the analysis and metabolism of polyphenols using mass spectrometry. In particular, he and his postdoctoral fellow Dr. Chao-Cheng Wang are developing extremely sensitive methods to study the uptake and metabolism of polyphenols in the tissues that are affected by chronic disease. These methods will also be applied to the penetration of grape polyphenols and their metabolites into brain, a project in the Botanicals Center that is being led by Dr. Helen Kim, Research Associate Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology.
When not doing research, he avidly follows soccer (and is delighted to see that the USA men’s team beat Kuwait 3-1 today to win their group and enter the next round of competition at the Olympic Games — the first time that has happened). His son Colin, who graduated from Hoover High School in 1997, is on a soccer scholarship at UNC-Asheville.
Helen Kim, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at UAB
Helen Kim is a native of Seoul, Korea, who emigrated to the United States with her family as a child, and became naturalized as a US citizen. Her education includes undergraduate training in chemistry at Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the Yale University School of Forestry, and a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Virginia, on the biochemistry and structure of brain microtubules.
Following an initial faculty appointment in the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Dr. Kim spent two years with a biotechnology company, Molecular Geriatrics Incorporated, in Lake Bluff, Illinois, where she was Group Leader (under CEO Ferid Murad [Nobel Laureate, Medicine, 1998]) for the development of assays to analyze Alzheimer’s protein changes in vitro.
Since 1995, Dr. Kim has been associated with the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at UAB, where her current position is Research Associate Professor. Her laboratory was the first to demonstrate that phytoestrogens in soy might have neuroprotective actions by suppressing brain protein modifications that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These results have led to analysis of the broader group of plant compounds, the polyphenols, and their potential health benefits and mechanisms of action in the brain, and in other tissues that are sensitive to oxidative stress. This latter area is the rationale for a research project that is part of a recently established Botanicals Center, a joint Purdue University-UAB effort funded recently by the NIH.
Because of her research, Dr. Kim has been a frequent invited speaker at a number of international symposia on either phytoestrogens, or functional foods. This past March (2000), Dr. Kim presented, upon request by the Alabama Department of Public Health, a satellite TV program on “The benefits of soy in human chronic diseases, with particular emphasis on women’s health issues.”