Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. About 43% of Americans have high cholesterol, which can lead to the build-up of plaque in arteries. Treatments such as statins are not always effective. A not-so-new chemical compound has proven the ability to reverse the effects of cholesterol plaques.
Cyclodextrin is sugar molecules arranged in a ring. The outside of the ring mixes with water and the inside of the ring traps chemicals inside to help them mix with medications and foods. In medication, the chemical acts as a carrier to make active drugs dissolve better in the body. Cyclodextrin is also used in foods such as mayo, sweets, and butter to contain flavors and remove cholesterol.
In a 2004 study, cyclodextrin’s potential emerged. Researchers were looking for a treatment for Niemann-Pick type C(NPC), a super rare genetic disorder, in which cholesterol transporters in cells are broken. When the transporter is broken, cholesterol builds up in cells. Mice that were given a steroid with cyclodextrin doubled their life expectancy.
Hugh and Chris Hempel of Reno, Nevada were following this research closely because their twin daughters have NPC. They were told there was nothing doctors could do for the children, so they examined the research in 2007. Since they had no medical background, they contacted German researchers about testing the chemical. These researchers used mice and confirmed what the parents thought – cyclodextrin prevented plaque formation, reduced arterial inflammation, and increased cholesterol metabolism. The same results were found on human cells in petri dishes. The Hempel’s efforts to try IV cyclodextrin on their girls were successful. The chemical is now in clinical trials for other NPC children.
The same German researchers published a study in 2010 describing how cyclodextrin clears plaque and prevents it from forming, as well as reduces inflammation. Hempel is coauthor of this study. Cyclodextrin is a promising new treatment for atherosclerosis in humans.
Mole, Beth. “Sweet drug clears cholesterol, reverses heart disease—and was found by parents.” Science. ARS Technica, 7 Apr 2016. Web. 7 Apr 2016.