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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 15 | October 4, 2001

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.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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