A significant portion of US population use dietary supplements, including botanical products, to help improve general health or manage disease conditions. To best guide the translation and implementation of botanical dietary supplements or nutraceuticals, rigorous scientific investigations are needed to characterize their benefits, risks, responsible ingredients, and mechanism of actions. The Botanical Translational Science core integrates pharmacognosy, medicinal chemistry, chemical biology, molecular and cellular biology, in vitro and in vivo disease models, bioanalytical chemistry, and clinical sciences to address these needs using kava as the exemplary candidate. One unique emphasis is to develop mechanism-based non-invasive clinically translatable biomarkers, which will not only help identify individuals more likely benefit from the botanical products but also could timely monitor the efficacy and risks of the intervention with the ultimate goal of precision implementation.
Traditional kava is a beverage consumed by the South Pacific Islanders to help relax, socialize, and improve the quality of sleep. Kava had also been used to help manage mild to moderate anxiety in Europe as a botanical drug in the 1990s. It was banned for clinical use in Europe from 2001 – 2014 because of concerns about potential hepatotoxicity. At the same time, kava has always been marketed as a dietary supplement in the US to support calm and promote relaxation. Various other biological activities have also been reported for kava in vitro and in vivo. Kava therefore represents a classical example of many dietary supplements with potential benefits and risks while the responsible ingredients and mechanisms remain to be rigorously established.
The Botanical Translational Science Core has been actively investigating the following indications of kava – its potential to reduce stress and anxiety, its potential to facilitate tobacco cessation, its potential to reduce cancer risks, its potential to improve the quality of sleep, its anti-inflammatory activity and associated disease conditions, such as COPD, its potential to help modulate immune system and restore healthy homeostasis, its potential hepatotoxic risk, its potential risk to induce clinically significant drug-herb and herb-herb interactions, and the chemical composition diversity of kava products on the market with the ultimate goal to guide the preparation of optimal kava products with high quality control and quality assurance and its precision implementation to help improve human health or manage disease conditions. Employing the mechanism-based biomarkers, the Botanical Translational Science Core is currently leading two double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trials. The knowledge, experience and strategies from the kava research are expected to extend to other botanical products.