CURRENT RESEARCH INTEREST
PROBLEM: Why are vegetables, nuts and fruits beneficial to health? Studies have failed to explain their benefit can be mimicked by supplementation with beta carotene, selenium, fiber and several other nutrients. But, boron, an essential plant nutrient that is present in these foods has not been considered because no one knew what it did and although it was used as a food perservative for centuries it was replaced in the early part of the 20th century. It was discovered to be essential for plant growth,flowering and seed formation in 1920s and to be present at high concentrations in vegetables, nuts, kelp and some fruit and their by-products such as coffee, wine, raisons and avocados. But it was not known what it did to human cells after a meal of boron rich foods. In a study using boron depleted zebrafish Dr. Eckhert discovered that when boron depleted female zebrafish eggs were fertilized with sperm from boron depleted males the fertilized zygote did not divide into two cells or continue cleavage into four cells and beyond. However, cell divison and embryonic development could be returned to normal by the addition of boron as boric acid the form of the element in human blood. This proved boron essentiality in an animal model at a critical stage of development.
The finding that boron affected cell multiplication at the one and two cell stage suggested it was involved at a very fundamental level in animal cell biology. Cancers are a disease of uncontrolled cell division so Dr. Eckhert developed a collaboration with FSPH Epidemiology Professor Zhang to screen for boron associated cancers. They used a boron foods database developed by Charlene Rainey to screen a NIH dietary cancer database. The results identified a dose dependent reduction in prostate cancer risk as dietary boron intake increased. This observation was subsequently supported by other researchers who observed boron also reduced the risk of other cancers, DNA damage from toxins and it also increased antioxidant status. Dr. Eckhert and his students proceeded to learn how boric acid protected cells. In a series of studies they identified cADPR as the molecule boric acid interacted with in the cell and the downstream events that followed that interaction over a period of 4 hours. This uncovered the boron acid signaling pathway. Knowledge of the pathway provided a framework that connected seemingly unconnected observations made by other researchers who had studied boron supplemented animals. There observations include: prevention against DNA damage from toxins, increased in natural antioxidant status, increased in boron mass and strength, reduced time of wound healing, improved immune response and control of infections. Details of the boric acid signaling pathway are available in two of his recent publications: 2016 (DOI: 10.1007/s12011-016-0824-y) and 2018 (DOI: 10.1007/s12011-018-1498-4).
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