Targeting Stress-Related Illnesses, Obesity, Cancer, Other Conditions

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The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has added four new Centers of Excellence for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CERCs) to its research centers program. The new centers will add to knowledge about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches and their potential in treating and preventing diseases and conditions that are common among Americans.

In NCCAM's CERC program, highly accomplished researchers across a variety of disciplines apply cutting-edge technology to projects in CAM. The new centers and their projects are as follows.

Wisconsin Center for the Neuroscience and Psychophysiology of Meditation
Principal Investigator: Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D.
Institution: University of Wisconsin, Madison

Dr. Davidson's team will examine the impact of two forms of meditation — loving-kindness/compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation — on the brain and body, focusing on the regulation of emotion and on emotional reactivity. Potential applications in health include biological and behavioral processes linked with emotions and/or stress, such as recurrent depression.

Metabolic and Immunologic Effects of Meditation
Principal Investigator: Frederick M. Hecht, M.D.
Institution: University of California, San Francisco


Dr. Hecht and his colleagues will study a program combining mindfulness meditation, mindful eating (the practice of awareness and attentiveness in the present moment while eating), and a diet and exercise program, for use in obesity and metabolic syndrome. They will test whether this program helps alter participants' hormonal responses to stress and helps enhance and maintain weight loss. Metabolic syndrome involves a cluster of abnormalities--including increased cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance--that increases one's risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

CAM as Countermeasures Against Infectious and Inflammatory Disease
Principal Investigator: Mark A. Jutila, Ph.D.
Institution: Montana State University, Bozeman

This center will study biologically based CAM therapies and their effects on immune system function in infectious and inflammatory diseases. One project focuses on effects of botanical extracts — from apple polyphenols, which are concentrated in apple skins, and from yamoa, which comes from the bark of an African gum tree — on white blood cells, using models of infection and inflammation of the intestinal mucosa. A second project examines two compounds in licorice root — glycyrrhizin and 18-glyrrhetinic acid — for their potential antiviral effects in models of influenza and stomach virus. A third project will focus on bacterial products to see how they treat autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, which may also help build understanding of probiotics' action.

Center for Herbal Research on Colorectal Cancer
Principal Investigator: Chun-Su Yuan, M.D., Ph.D.
Institution: University of Chicago

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer-related death. Dr. Yuan and his colleagues will examine the anti-tumor effects of different preparations of the herbs American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and notoginseng (Panax notoginseng). They will seek to learn more, through laboratory and animal studies, about how these herbs act upon cellular and molecular pathways of the mechanisms of cancer inhibition.

"The new CERCs, all based on strong preliminary work, apply natural-product and mind-body CAM approaches across a range of health conditions that affect the American public," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., NCCAM director. "Their multidisciplinary, collaborative structure increases opportunities for improving health and discovering insights into important aspects of human biology."

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