UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 15 | October
Plants may cut cholesterol: researchers to investigate
Study may lead to combating cardiovascular disease with safer
and more effective medications, says professor
Pharmaceutical sciences Assoc. Prof. Kishor Wasan and Haydn Pritchard,
a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Sciences, have received
a collaborative research grant of almost $946,000 over three years
from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and UBC spin-off
Forbes Medi-Tech Inc.
"This project is a great example of the strong links our faculties
have with the biotechnology sector," says Wasan, who specializes
in lipid metabolism or how fats are processed in the body.
Pritchard, a faculty member since 1983, is an expert in genetic
and environmental factors affecting cholesterol metabolism.
The researchers will examine how drugs that have a plant sterol
base can inhibit cholesterol absorption. Plant sterols, also known
as phytosterols, are fat-like compounds found in the cells and membrane
of plants. They have the same molecular structure as cholesterol
found in food and bile.
Phytosterols block the absorption of cholesterol in the
small intestine. Excess amounts of cholesterol then pass through
the body which results in lowered blood cholesterol levels.
Excessive levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL) -- often called
`bad' cholesterol -- in blood can contribute to atherosclerosis
and cardiovascular disease which is the leading cause of death in
Canada, according to Health Canada sources.
"There are several effective cholesterol-lowering pharmaceuticals
on the market today but many have significant side effects," says
Wasan. "Phytosterol-based drugs may very well represent a new class
of safe and effective medicinal agents."
Pritchard, who has worked with Forbes Medi-Tech Inc. for four years,
says this investigation represents part of the collaborative cycle
where university research creates a spin-off company which then
returns funding to the university for further research.
Forbes Medi-Tech Inc., a biotechnology company based in Vancouver,
specializes in the research, development and commercialization of
medicinal products derived from plant sterols.