BENFRA Research

An older couple outdoors, smiling
Image credit www.stannah.ca

Aging-related challenges, including alterations in mood, sleep disturbances and cognitive decline, have detrimental effects on quality of life for the elderly. Many botanical agents, including Centella asiatica (CA; “gotu kola”) and Withania somnifera (WS; “ashwagandha”), are purported to improve resilience to these changes, yet few have been evaluated in well-designed clinical trials.

The BENFRA center will examine CA and WS in preclinical research studies that will  evaluate their effects, underlying mechanisms and active constituents. This information will inform the design of future clinical trials to evaluate their efficacy in humans. Ultimately these studies will lead to better formulated dietary supplements with reliable health benefits for healthy aging.

Research goals

The Center will establish a pipeline of experimental approaches and techniques to facilitate resolution of issues that are critical to the design of optimal clinical trials of botanicals that may improve resilience during aging. This research platform will be used to consolidate and expand our extensive preliminary studies on Centella asiatica in preparation for an optimized clinical trial in aging participants. View a list of publications.

A second botanical, Withania somnifera, with compelling reports of similar biological effects to CA, will enter the research pipeline at an earlier stage, again with a view to designing future optimized clinical trials.

Learn more about Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera.

BENFRA uses authentication and optimization, identification of active compounds and mechanisms, evaluation of in vitro efficacy and translationally relevant biomarkers, and optimally designed clinical trials in an organized fashion to arrive with valid evaluation of botanical efficacy.
BDSRC pipeline leading to optimally designed clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of botanicals.

Botanicals of interest

Our research will focus on two herbs:

  • Centella asiatica (L.) Urban (CA; family Apiaceae), sold as “gotu kola”
  • Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal (WS; family Solanaceae), sold as ashwagandha”

Learn more about these botanicals.

Center structure

The BENFRA Center will perform two research projects (Projects 1 and 2) that will be supported by a Botanical Research Core and an Administrative Core.

The Administrative Core works with the NIH and EAC. Based at Oregon State University, the Research Core includes members from OHSU, Oregon’s Wild Harvest and U Miss. It is responsible for Projects 1 and 2, with OSU being involved with Project 2.
BDSRC components and collaborating organizations

Project and core leads

Headshot of Amala Soumyanath

Amala Soumyanath, B.Pharm., Ph.D.
Program Director/Principal Investigator
Administrative Core Lead
Project 2 Co-Lead
Botanical Core Co-Investigator

Headshot of Claudia Maier

Claudia Maier, Ph.D.
Botanical Research Core Lead

Headshot of Nora Gray

Nora Gray, Ph.D.
Project 1 Lead
Project 2 Co-Investigator

Headshot of Miranda Lim

Miranda Lim, M.D., Ph.D.
Project 1 Co-Lead

Headshot of Doris Kretzschmar

Project 1: Identifying in vivo biomarkers of the effects of Centella asiatica (CA)

This project explores the ability of CA to influence age-related changes in sleep, mood and cognition in mouse models, as well as underlying in vivo mechanisms and translatable biomarkers of target engagement.

Project 2: Mechanism-based evaluation of bioactive botanical compounds enhancing neurological resistance

This project studies chemically well-characterized fractions from Centella asiatica (CA) and Withania somnifera (WS) in Drosophila flies, mouse primary neurons, and mouse brain slices in order to identify the active compounds in CA and WS that are related to specific mechanisms of action.

Learn more about our Projects.

Administrative Core

This Core facilitates collaborative interactions between the BDSRC components, and with other CARBON centers, monitors and sets goals for the Center, provides statistical support, and ensures rigorous scientific standards.

​​​​​​​Botanical Research Core

This Core provides authenticated and highly characterized materials for the Center’s projects, develops novel methods that advance the analysis of botanicals, assists in identifying the active principles of the botanicals, and explores biological pathways targeted by the botanicals using “omics” approaches. 

Learn more about our Cores.