Data on Cholesterol Not Always Easy to Explain

Posted by CorDynamics on February 16th, 2015
by Dr. Michael Gralinski, CorDynamics CEO

A cardiovascular news story came out recently and the context of its release was troublesome to me. This article, not surprisingly carried by all major news organizations given the bold proclamation, announced ‘cholesterol may not be as bad as we thought’.

As I read through this piece, I came to the conclusion that we as scientists need to better articulate the actual point of our research and clearly explain our data. In the absence of a clear direction from the scientists, an attention-grabbing headline often misses the mark.

Reading the article, if I hadn’t known better, I would have come away believing cholesterol “was wrongly linked to heart disease” and many guidelines from the government and other advisory bodies were incorrect for decades. The actual findings of the research are quite different from that characterization.

Cholesterol, and specifically LDL/its isoforms, is a substantive contributor to coronary artery disease and stroke. The point of the research not reported in the story was that our bodies produce levels of cholesterol mostly independent of the amount consumed through the diet. Therefore, it may not be as important to highly regulate the amount we are eating – but instead focus on methods to reduce plasma cholesterol/LDL such as exercise, a diet high in fiber or medications if needed.

For decades statins were considered the final weapon in the battle against cholesterol. Unfortunately, we now know this is not the case. Unanticipated side effects following years of exposure, along with greater understanding of hypercholesterolemia’s  pathogenesis, have resulted in a need for new programs in this field – including PCSK9 and BAT inhibitors amongst others.

Compounds from these programs will be under careful scrutiny for undesirable action that has de-railed previous cholesterol projects such as blood pressure increases with CETP inhibition. More on related drug safety studies.

In addition, prudent examination of the large databases have not shown a proven beneficial effect for lowering cholesterol to certain numerical targets. Lifestyle modifications may thus continue to play a large role in lowering overall risk of heart disease prior to pharmacological treatment.

Understanding how to interact with colleagues outside of our field is a skill set needing improvement for many scientists. Explaining our data and what we do is key–whether talking to project teams, investors, clients or simply friends and neighbors.

 

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