Amy Howell's laboratory focusses on the health benefits of Vaccinium fruits and the active compounds responsible for the benefits. Cranberries and blueberries are native to North America and have a rich folklore history of medicinal uses by the Native American Indians. Many of the uses, once thought to be anecdotal, are now the subject of intensive scientific research. Cranberry juice consumption has been shown clinically to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), however until recently, the effect was thought to be due to acidification of the urine.
Research in Howell's lab focusses on the isolation, characterization and bioactivity of specific compounds in cranberry called A-type proanthocyanidins, which have a range of effects on prevention of bacterial adhesion, gut invasion and motility - all important aspects for managing urinary tract infections. Howell is interested in promoting cranberry consumption for prevention of UTIs and other bacterial diseases to try and curtail overuse of antibiotics for treating these infections. She regularly travels to many countries, especially China and India to educate consumers and healthcare professionals on the health benefits of cranberry and the potential for utilizing cranberry as an alternative to low-dose antibiotics for infection prevention.
For more information on the health benefits of cranberries, please go to The Cranberry Institute website.
Research on blueberries from many labs around the world, originally focused on antioxidant activity, but has now expanded into the areas of anti-inflammation, and cell signaling. Much of the research involves the effects of blueberry on age-related mental decline, including cognitive and motor functions. Increases in functionality have been observed in both animal and human trials following consumption of blueberries. Blueberries are known for their broad array of phytochemicals, especially flavonoids. In Howell's lab, she isolates proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins and flavonol glycosides from blueberries and collaborates with other researchers to determine their health effects, especially on human viruses and periodontal disease. Howell is the Public Member on the US Highbush Blueberry Council and sits on the Research Committee, which is intimately involved with supporting many of the health research projects that are ongoing with blueberries.