BENFRA Pilot Study Funding

Department of Neurology, Oregon Health & Science University

The BENFRA Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University is welcoming applications for one $15,000 award funded by the OHSU Department of Neurology.

The goal of the award is to support a pilot project performed by a trainee researcher on Botanicals Enhancing Neurological and Functional Resilience in Aging (BENFRA). The awardee will work closely with the BENFRA Center at OHSU. Applicants are encouraged to review the goals and mission statement and the faculty and researchers of the Center. 

The deadline for applications is October 2, 2023.


Applications may be submitted by the proposed trainee (undergraduate or graduate student, postdoctoral scholar) or the faculty member mentoring the trainee. 

Eligible Projects

Projects may involve the herbs of focus at the BENFRA Center, Centella asiatica (Gotu kola) or Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) or may involve other herbs previously identified as having resilience-promoting effects for human health, especially for aging related changes to sleep, mood and cognition. Projects must include at least one OHSU faculty level BENFRA investigator as Principal or Co-investigator and provide an opportunity for research training. All research activities must take place at Oregon Health & Science University. 


If applying as a trainee, please include your CV as well as your PI/mentor’s name and their letter of support. If applying as a faculty member/mentor, please include your trainee’s CV.

Applications should be emailed to the BENFRA Center at
by October 2, 2023.
Please include the heading ‘BENFRA Pilot Funds Application' in the subject field.


Please direct questions about eligibility and potential projects to: 
Lucy Allison, BENFRA Administrative Coordinator at

BENFRA Year 4 solicitation, review and award timeline

August  2023  Solicitation announced

October 2, 2023  Applications due

November 2, 2023  Award decision made and applicants notified

Previously funded projects

Evaluating NRF2 activation by extracts and constituent compounds of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera

Trainee: Cody Neff, B.S.
Mentor: Nora Gray, Ph.D.

This pilot project presented an excellent training opportunity for Cody to learn how to perform sterile cell culture and conduct experiments to look at the activation of the antioxidant transcription factor NRF2 in a specially designed reporter cell line called HEPG2-ARE.

Cody’s preliminary data showed that treating the cells with combinations of constituent triterpene and caffeoylquinic acid compounds from a water extract of Centella asiatica (CAW) did not elicit the same amount of activation as treatment with the entire CAW extract.  He also tested aqueous and hydroethanolic extracts of Withania somnifera (WS) and compared those results to a mixture of constituent compounds from WS.  Again, Cody found that the compound mixes did not evoke the same activation as the extracts suggesting the presence of other active compounds in the complex extracts.

Quantitative EEG signatures of Centella asiatica in Aged Mice

Trainee: Noah Milman, Ph.D. candidate
Mentor: Miranda Lim, M.D., Ph.D.

In this pilot project, Noah learned advanced methods in MATLAB to analyze EEG signatures in aged mice dosed with Centella asiatica (CAW) in their diet. He also developed new skills in data visualization and developed code to visualize the power spectra of mouse EEG using a multi-tapered spectrogram. Noah compared slow wave activity as well as slow and fast gamma power between aged mice dosed with CAW and aged mice eating control chow using fast Fourier transforms (FFT). Their hypothesis is that EEG gamma power, a frequency band linked to cognitive function, would be increased in aged mice dosed with CAW, compared to controls.

The Effects of Centella asiatica on Cerebrovascular Reactivity in Aging Mice

Trainee: Ben Zimmerman, Ph.D.
Mentor: Anusha Mishra, Ph.D.

This project, proposed by Dr. Zimmerman, augments ongoing mouse in vivo studies at the BENFRA Center by investigating whether Centella asiatica water extract improves cerebrovascular reactivity to hypercapnia in young and aged mouse brain, measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods. Dr. Zimmerman has received training on the MRI technique, helped to develop the final MRI protocols and has begun treating mice for the imaging study.

BENFRA welcomes applications from all qualified individuals. We do not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, genetic make-up, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Application document