UF College of Pharmacy teams with Tufts University School of Medicine

A new University of Florida research center is investigating how foods and drugs interact to prevent potentially harmful side effects and improve patient outcomes.

The Center for Food-Drug Interaction Research and Education, established by UF’s College of Pharmacy and the Tufts University School of Medicine, brings together researchers in pharmacy, medicine and food science to investigate known food-drug interactions and anticipate new ones.

Common use of prescription drugs combined with daily consumption of over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, foods and alcohol makes this an important area of research for patients and their doctors.

Center researchers first will focus on the “grapefruit juice effect,” a phenomenon that has gained widespread media attention since its discovery in 1989. Scientists have learned that grapefruit juice interferes with the body’s ability to breakdown certain drugs, increasing drug absorption.

“There is an immediate need for further research to identify exactly which drugs are affected by grapefruit juice and which ones aren’t so that drug substitutions can be recommended,” said center founder Hartmut Derendorf, Ph.D., a distinguished professor and chairman of the UF department of pharmaceutics. Derendorf directs the center with David Greenblatt, M.D., a professor and chairman of the department of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Tufts. After seeing a 25 percent decrease in national sales of grapefruit products, the Florida citrus industry turned to research to answer consumer concerns. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a renewable grant of $232,000 to open the center last fall.

Steve Talcott, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, joined the center because of his research in phytochemicals — the compounds responsible for food interactions.

Established community outreach services and public awareness programs through his college’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences also makes this collaboration a perfect fit, Talcott said. With additional support from the Food and Drug Administration and the Florida Department of Citrus, Derendorf and others are working to develop a research strategy that considers both the welfare of the public and the grapefruit industry.

“Without up-to-date research providing factual information, patients sometimes feel that they should avoid drinking grapefruit juice to be safe,” Derendorf said. “This is not always the best solution since the juice contributes valuable health benefits.” Sharing its findings with the public and the health-care community is one of the center’s main missions. Researchers will provide specific guidelines and dosing recommendations, and educate the public about the risks and potential significance of food-drug interactions. Plans include disseminating balanced and objective information through the center’s Web site (www.cop.ufl.edu/safezone/pat/citrus/); organizing scientific symposia on food-drug interactions at national meetings of physicians, pharmacists and nurse-practitioners; maintaining a speaker’s bureau available for lectures and presentations to professional groups and consumers; and providing scientific consultation with professionals working with public media outlets.

Research and educational efforts will expand to other food products and to complementary and alternative medicines, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.

“Many studies have begun to identify prescription drug interactions with natural products such as St. John’s wort,” said Veronika Butterweck, Ph.D., center co-director and the DeSantis professor of natural products at the UF College of Pharmacy. “We want to ensure the safety and effectiveness of natural products since interactions can result in unwanted side effects, toxic responses or treatment failure.”

Research groups are being established at UF and Tufts, with research and educational activities monitored by the center’s Medical Scientific Oversight Committee. This Committee has already had a meeting with the FDA to get input on regulatory concerns related to food and drug interactions.

“We have been involved in education and research at the University of Florida for 80 years,” said William Riffee, Ph.D., dean of UF’s College of Pharmacy. “Now, working with researchers from several disciplines, we have an opportunity to extend our college’s service beyond our own campus to share research and to educate pharmaceutical consumers worldwide.”

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Linda Homewood's picture

Linda Homewood

Public Relations Director, College of Pharmacy

Linda Homewood, APR is the Director of News & Communications for the UF College of Pharmacy, she is also the editor of the college’s alumni magazine, GATORx. An accredited member...Read More