Novel Approaches to Study Synergy in Botanical Medicines

The central challenge that impedes research on botanical dietarysupplements is how to address their complexity and variability. Practitioners of alternative medicine argue that this complexity results in beneficial synergistic interactions. However, the specific constituents responsible for synergistic activity, and the mechanisms by which these constituents interact, are rarely known. For the past decade, our research group has been engaged in research aimed at developing novel methods to investigate the phenomenon of synergistic interactions in complex mixtures from botanical medicines.

We have developed a novel approach “synergy-directed fractionation”, which employs mass spectrometry and synergy assays in concert to track bioactive constituents as they are isolated from a mixture. We used the medicinal plant goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) as a test case for this approach, and have identified a number of constituents that interact synergistically to enable H. canadensis extracts to fight bacteria. Our work in the area of synergy and botanical medicines has been featured in Chemical and Engineering News and a paper on our synergy-directed fractionation approach coauthored by our research group and that of Dr. Nicholas Oberlies was awarded the Jack L. Beal award for best journal of natural products paper by a young investigator in 2011.