Protecting hearts

Berry compound shows remarkable promise

Eating blackberries and black elderberries might protect your heart and prevent high blood pressure. That’s what Drs. Jeffrey Wigle and Thomas Netticadan of St. Boniface Hospital are trying to prove.

“In nature, plants produce compounds called polyphenols when they are under stress,” explains Dr. Netticadan, Principal Investigator, Heart Failure Research Laboratory. “These polyphenols are very important for human health.”

Drs. Wigle and Netticadan are focusing their attention on cyanidin-3-glucoside, a polyphenol found in abundance in certain berries. The question they are trying to answer is whether cyanidin-3-glucoside, which exists to colour and protect plants, can also protect people. The results so far are very promising.

“For ages, plants have been the source of discovery,” says Dr. Wigle, Principal Investigator, Vascular Development.

Right now, Drs. Wigle and Netticadan are trying to understand the chemical structures of cyanidin-3-glucoside and what therapeutic impact they could have in humans.

In their first study, they discovered that, while cyanidin-3-glucoside does not lower blood pressure, it does seem to make the heart better perform and relax in someone who has very high blood pressure. It may also prevent moderately high blood pressure in the first place.

The next study will look at the impact cyanidin-3-glucoside may have on patients who have already had a heart attack.

“The big goal, of course, is to find out whether there is some way to preserve heart muscle after an attack,” says Dr. Wigle.

The research that Drs. Wigle and Netticadan and their teams are doing is complex. From work in the lab, to publishing papers, to human trials, to considering interactions with conventional medicines, and other activities, the research on cyanidin-3-glucoside is a long-term exercise.

“We are so grateful that our donors understand our work. Without their support, we couldn’t move forward,” says Dr. Wigle. “Their enthusiasm drives us.”

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