Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Formerly proprietary natural products research database released in web version

Folks in my research field have been waiting for this day for many years. Members of the American Society of Pharmacognosy learned last week that Professor Norman R. Farnsworth of the University of Illinois at Chicago will release his group's NAPRALERT database this week to open access.

Previously a clanky version of PubMed/ScienceDirect for natural products, NAPRALERT has previously been the gold-standard for searching peer-reviewed, published literature for chemicals derived from natural sources and information on their biological activity. Among the most important features of NAPRALERT is that database entries are included from a great many foreign journals not commonly available in the US UK, or Australia.

As detailed in the announcement:
"NAPRALERT is a relational database of all natural products, including ethnomedical information, pharmacological/biochemical information of extracts of organisms in vitro, in situ, in vivo, in humans (case reports, non-clinical trials) and clinical studies. Similar information is available for secondary metabolites from natural sources."

"In 1975 the system began a systematic search of the literature by examining every journal pertinent to natural products in our UIC Health Science Library, as well as viewing the Table of Contents of a large number of journals from the Internet on a regular (monthly) basis. These journals were selected from a list of journals that historically we knew contained pertinent data for the system. In addition pertinent sections of Chemical Abstracts, particularly the Biochemistry Section, was examined for articles not found in our Library sources and original articles were obtained via Interlibrary Loans. We are fortunate also to have many foreign journals in which articles are rarely found through the aforementioned sources."

"To date more than 200,000 scientific papers and reviews are included in NAPRALERT representing organisms from all countries of the world, including marine organisms, including the geographic origin from where the organisms were obtained."

Most shocking to me is that Prof Farnsworth's group was unable to secure funding from NIH's NCCAM or even the US Library of Congress to keep the database going after 2003.

"We believe that our coverage of the literature is comprehensive from at least 1975 through and including 2003. Due to budget problems we only include ca. 15% of the literature from 2004 and 2005, but articles are being collected and eventually we hope to be up-to-date."

"About 25% of the database is derived from abstracts and 75% from original articles. In the past we have had the occasion to acquire complete literature on ca. 250 genera of plants and these data appear in NAPRALERT. The earliest papers date in the late 1800's."

Our coverage of the literature in the following areas is quite comprehensive:

* Clinical studies of natural products (including safety)
* Natural products that affect sugar metabolism
* Natural products that affect mammalian reproduction
* Extracts and compounds that affect cancer growth
* Natural products and antiviral (including HIV/AIDS) activity
* Natural products and antitubercular activity
* Natural products and tropical diseases
* Ethnomedical information on more than 20,000 species of plants
* Metabolism and pharmacokinetics
* Natural products that affect plant growth
* Biosynthesis of natural products
* Review articles on organisms at the genus and/or species levels
and reviews of secondary metabolites (Citations only)
* Chemoprevention with natural products
* Natural insecticides
* Antiinflammatory activity of natural products
* Analgesic activity of natural products

"Caution: When seeking information on biological activity categories, there are many closely related biological targets that might relate to a single endpoint . If you cannot retrieve biological data on an activity that you desire, please contact us by e-mail ( and we will attempt to assist you."

Finally, for all the grad students in the audience: Prof Farnsworth is in his mid-70s yet continues to be active not only in research, but in graduate education as well. When receiving an award 5 years ago for his personal research accomplishments, he cited all of his current graduate trainees present as the future of natural products research and asked them all to stand to the applause of all gathered.

What we need now in all fields are mentors who think more of their trainees than they do of themselves. I'll smoke a cigar with Prof Farnsworth any day.


At Thu Apr 20, 11:06:00 AM EDT, Blogger Shelley said...

Sounds fascinating! Please post when the database is up and running. I'd love to do a few searches on ginsing (does it really give you more energy?) :P

At Sun Apr 23, 12:06:00 AM EDT, Blogger Bill Hooker said...



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