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Heather Winter (Chemistry & Biochemistry) received new funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NIH) for the project Metabolomics for Determining Mechanism of Action of Botanical Medicines.” Dr. Nadja Cech is co-principal investigator on the project.

Plants have demonstrated incredible chemical diversity, with compounds that act by unique, often uncharacterized mechanisms. Botanicals have shown promise to reverse antibiotic resistance, re-sensitizing pathogens to existing antibiotics. Combination effects of botanicals with antibiotics are unparalleled by modern treatments, though the mechanisms by which these botanicals act are typically not understood.

Of one of the most problematic multi-drug resistant, Gram-negative pathogens is Acinetobacter baumannii, responsible for severe and often deadly hospital-acquired infections. A few botanicals have been reported in literature to possess inherent antimicrobial activity against A. baumannii, including Viola odorata (sweet violet) and Scutellaria barbata (skullcap). These reports show that V. odorata contains bioactive cyclotides, while the active compounds in S. barbata have not yet been verified. There is no indication on potential mechanisms of action by which the active compounds from these botanicals may be operating. Currently, there are limited techniques available to readily discern the mechanisms of action by which a botanicals at the whole-extract level may be operating.

With the studies proposed herein, the researchers seek to use the botanicals V. odorata and S. barbata as model systems to develop new methodologies that fill this gap. The goal of this research is to (1) develop a new metabolomics-based technique to evaluate bioactive complex botanical and other natural product mixtures and establish mechanism of antimicrobial action at the screening stage and (2) gain insight into the structural features of active constituents based upon mechanism of action for botanicals traditionally employed for the treatment of bacterial infections to validate alternative and integrative botanical therapies.

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