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.
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.
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”
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 Center has close ties to the NIH Layton Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center and The Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders (ORCCAMIND) at OHSU.
Project and core leads
Amala Soumyanath, B.Pharm., Ph.D.
Program Director/Principal Investigator
Administrative Core Lead
Project 2 Co-Lead
Botanical Core Co-Investigator
Claudia Maier, Ph.D.
Botanical Research Core Lead
Nora Gray, Ph.D.
Project 1 Lead
Project 2 Co-Investigator
Miranda Lim, M.D., Ph.D.
Project 1 Co-Lead
Doris Kretzschmar, Ph.D.
Project 2 Lead
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.
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.