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Alberta natural trans fat research earns global recognition

Finding treatments and cures for conditions from the foods people eat may someday replace conventional medicinal treatments using pills or other means, thanks to research being done at the University of Alberta.


April 3, 2008
By Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition/University of Alberta
April 2, 2008

Edmonton, AB  -One of the best ways in the future to prevent heart disease and other chronic disorders may not come from a pill or medical treatment but from a container of yogurt. And an Alberta student scientist and her program are already on the front lines of this opportunity.

University of Alberta student Flora Wang was the recipient of a Young Investigator Award at the recent International Symposium on Chylomicrons in Disease (ISCD) 2008, in Lake Louise, Alta. Wang earned the award for her presentation of research demonstrating that a diet with enriched levels of trans vaccenic acid (VA) – a natural animal fat found in dairy and beef products – can reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes and obesity. 
Results indicated this benefit was due in part to the ability of VA to reduce the production of chylomicrons – particles of fat and cholesterol that form in the small intestine following a meal and are rapidly processed throughout the body.
For the first time, the ISCD conference brought together scientists covering the spectrum from basic discovery to clinical research, to share knowledge and drive progress on this emerging health frontier. The role of chylomicrons is increasingly viewed as a critical missing link in the understanding of conditions arising from metabolic disorders.
"Our results provide further evidence of the important role of chylomicrons in contributing to risk factors associated with metabolic disorders," says Wang. "They also indicate a strong opportunity for using diets with enhanced VA to help reduce these risk factors."
Wang's presentation, selected for the award by a distinguished international judging panel, showed research that she contributed to as part of the team at the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory, Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition, led by Dr. Spencer Proctor.
The research involved two VA feeding trials – one short term (three weeks) and one long term (16 weeks) – using model rat species for obesity and the metabolic syndrome. 
The results included novel findings that VA may have direct effects on the intestine. In addition, they showed key metabolic risk factors were reduced. For example, in the long-term trial, total cholesterol was lowered by approximately 30 percent, LDL cholesterol was lowered by 25 percent and triglyceride levels were lowered by more than 50 percent.
Findings indicated these beneficial effects were due in part to a chylomicron-lowering effect of VA, which resulted in a reduction of chylomicron levels by more than 50 percent. VA also had an effect on improving post-meal lipid profiles that was independent of this chylomicron lowering effect.
"Our trials are among the first to show that over-production of chylomicrons during obesity and the metabolic syndrome can be partially reversed by VA," says Wang. "This is a major finding that will encourage further research to explore these benefits."
Because VA is the major natural trans fat in dairy and beef products, comprising over 70 percent of the proportion of natural trans fat content in those products, the findings support a growing body of evidence that indicates natural animal-based trans fat is different than harmful hydrogenated trans fat created through industrial processing, observes Wang.
"As the VA results illustrate, some natural trans fats are not harmful and may in fact be very good for you," she says.
The team led by Proctor has pursued numerous studies to explore the link between nutrition and dietary-related chronic diseases, pursued in part through Alberta government initiatives such as Agri-Health Initiative, designed to produce new discoveries and enhanced agriculture and food products to improve human health and wellness. 
The researchers are currently preparing to conduct further research, including human clinical trials, to further explore and confirm the health implications of VA. Background information on ISCD and future information updates may be viewed at www.iscd2008.com.
Communications Backgrounder
The Symposium
The International Symposium on Chylomicrons in Disease (ISCD) 2008, with a theme to 'foster new frontiers', was hosted by the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition (AIHN) and the University of Alberta. It brought together scientists covering the spectrum from basic discovery to clinical research, to share knowledge and drive progress on an emerging health frontier of fast-rising importance to the fight against heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other dietary-related chronic diseases. 
The ISCD was held March 6-8 in Lake Louise, Alta. The agenda featured over 30 presentations and broad discussion of latest research, new opportunities and future challenges in this field. It also included presentations and awards focused on young investigators, helping to emphasize professional training and education at the international level. With sponsorship including the pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors, ISCD served as an important event for these two sectors to come together in the collective interest of highlighting the importance of nutrition in chronic disease.
ISCD is facilitating publication of Symposium proceedings in a major international journal (Atherosclerosis Supplement), expected to be in print by July of this year. Background information on ISCD and future information updates may be viewed at www.iscd2008.com.
The topic
Chylomicrons are large particles of dietary lipoproteins – essentially, balls of fat and cholesterol – that form in the small intestine following a meal. These chylomicron particles quickly absorb into the blood stream and are transported throughout the body, where they deliver a portion of their fat and cholesterol payload to various tissues. Research has indicated that the remaining chylomicron "remnants" form smaller lipoproteins, which can build up more quickly in arteries than any other type of cholesterol-carriers, including low-density-lipoproteins (LDL). In addition to heart disease, chylomicrons have been revealed as playing a major role in diabetes, obesity and other dietary-related chronic diseases. 
The award
The ISCD Young Investigator Award for presentation is designed to acknowledge a young scientist demonstrating outstanding participation in and presentation of leading-edge research to advance knowledge in the area of chylomicrons.
The award is determined by an international judging panel of leading scientific experts in the field. For example, judges notably included Dr. Jeffrey Cohn, Group Leader of Nutrition and Metabolism, University of Sydney in Australia; and Dr. Gerald Tomkin, Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. 
Flora Wang was one of a handful of award finalists that spoke at the ISCD. Her presentation was part of a session on "nutrition and dietary impact on intestinal lipoprotein metabolism" that also included Dr. Denis Lairon, Director of Research for Human Nutrition and Lipids at INSERM-INRA (France); Dr. Jose Ordovas of Tufts University, Human Nutrition Research Centre (Massachusetts); Dr. Kathy Botham and Dr. Charlotte Lawson of the Royal Veterinary College in London; and Dr. Donna Vine of the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition, University of Alberta.
The winner

Flora Wang is a PhD student in the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition (AIHN), University of Alberta. Wang is pursuing her studies as part of the research team led by Dr. Spencer Proctor in the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory, AIHN, University of Alberta. The Laboratory has conducted numerous leading studies to explore the link between nutrition and the dietary-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. This research has been pursued in part through Alberta government initiatives such as Agri-Health Initiative, designed to produce new discoveries and enhanced agriculture and food products to improve human health and wellness.
In addition to the ISCD Young Investigator Award, Wang previously earned an award for oral research presentation at the CLA Summit conference, themed "Harvesting the future," held in June 2007 in Kananaskis, Alta.
The sponsors 
Major sponsors of ISCD 2008 included Merck Frosst / Schering Pharmaceuticals (Platinum), Pfizer Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada (Silver) and several Bronze sponsors including Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund, Merck Frosst, Canadian Society of Atherosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Bles-Wold Dairy Inc., CLA Network and the University of Alberta (including Faculty of Agricultural, Environmental & Life Sciences and Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science).
The Alberta / CLA connection
Researchers in the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory are members of the CLA Network – a team of researchers, food industry representatives, health professionals and communicators, devoted to progress with natural conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA Network research has shown that natural TVA, which is a precursor to CLA, increases exponentially when natural CLA levels are increased in dairy products through practical dairy cattle feeding strategies.
These researchers have also been part of pioneering research around the world showing considerable human health and functional food potential for natural CLA. Alberta-based Bles-Wold Dairy Inc. recently commercialized a new yogurt and sour cream product line featuring substantial levels of natural CLA, based in part on research and assistance from the CLA Network.