Cardiff University researchers search for atherosclerosis cure

By Lizzie Harrett

One of Cardiff University’s main draws is its research might. In the last year we’ve been in the headlines for work with gravitational waves, hallucinations and fossil record studies but we are back at it again with research findings published in PLOS ONE that may help provide a potential cure for atherosclerosis.

Cardiff University have collaborated with the South Wales based nutritional supplement manufacturer Cultech Ltd to look into the potential of preventing atherosclerosis through combining marine fish oil, cocoa extract and phytosterols into a dietary supplement.

Atherosclerosis is a condition that causes “furry” arteries due to them getting clogged up by fatty substances that are called plaques. It is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is where the blood flow is reduced and can lead to diseases such as strokes and heart attacks. This is something we should all be concerned about, because cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the Western world. One individual is killed by atherosclerosis approximately every 34 seconds.

There is currently no direct cure for atherosclerosis. Current therapies are not fully effective, with most GPs recommending lifestyle changes as a means of reducing the risk of getting cardiovascular disease. Consumption of active food ingredients such as phytosterols, omega-3, polyunsaturated fatty acids and flavanols are known to benefit cardiovascular disease, although the effect that the combined actions of these compounds have on tackling artherosclerosis was poorly understood.

The research used cell-based experimental models to examine whether combining these three ingredients into a dietary supplement could inhibit key processes which are associated with the progression of artherosclerosis.

Dr Dipak Ramji, from the School of Biosciences, who co-authored the study said: “We set out to examine what happens when you combine omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in marine fish oil), flavanols (found in cocoa) and phytosterols.”

The research was a success, with Dr Dipak Ramji stating: “The study found, in cell-based models, that combining the three ingredients could, potentially, help halt the progression of atherosclerosis. The challenge now is to take our findings and examine whether they translate into humans.”

The next step is to try and see if this can work in vivo – in animal and human models. The findings are very much in early stages and it may not translate into an effective medicine for humans. While a cure will be beneficial, saving countless lives, ensuring that people live a health style as a preventative measure is vital and will also benefit their health beyond the atherosclorosis risk.

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