Groundbreaking Discovery: New Mechanism for Cholesterol Absorption Uncovered, Opening Up New Possibilities for Preventing Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke


A team of researchers from the University of Leicester has made a significant breakthrough in our understanding of how cholesterol from our diet is absorbed into our cells. The discovery, recently published in the journal Science, sheds light on the mechanism by which two key proteins, Aster B and Aster C, transport cholesterol from the cell membranes lining our intestines to the internal compartment where it is modified before circulating throughout the body. This newfound knowledge could pave the way for innovative therapeutic interventions to control cholesterol uptake, potentially complementing existing therapies and saving lives.

The research, conducted in collaboration with scientists from the USA, China, and Australia, was made possible by a $6 million grant from the Leducq Foundation. The foundation awarded funds to eight laboratories across the USA and Europe for collaborative research into how cholesterol is transported in our bodies.

Utilizing their expertise in structural and chemical biology, the University of Leicester researchers from the Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology delved into the fundamental workings of cholesterol absorption and metabolism. They specifically focused on Ezetimibe, a cholesterol-lowering drug, and investigated how it interferes with the transport of cholesterol by Aster B and Aster C. Their findings shed light on the crucial role played by these proteins in cholesterol transportation.

Professor John Schwabe, Director of the Institute for Structural and Chemical Biology at the University of Leicester, commented on the significance of the breakthrough, stating: “This breakthrough is the result of a long-lasting collaboration and forms part of an international effort to identify ways in which we can combat cardiovascular disease and stroke. A better understanding of important areas of cholesterol absorption and metabolism…is essential. This knowledge will allow us to design new drugs and therapies that target specific proteins involved in these pathways to combat the most pressing public health problems such as heart attacks and stroke.”

Cholesterol, a naturally occurring fatty substance found in the blood, is produced by the liver and is also present in certain foods like red meat and dairy products. While our bodies require cholesterol to function properly, excessive levels can lead to the clogging of arteries and various health issues, including heart disease.

Professor Schwabe emphasized the potential impact of preventing cholesterol absorption: “If we can prevent some cholesterol from being absorbed into our cells, we may ultimately be able to prevent individuals from having high cholesterol and cut down their risks of heart attack and stroke and therefore potentially save lives.”

The collaborative Leducq team aims to tackle cholesterol-related concerns at multiple levels, utilizing their expertise to uncover novel approaches. In addition to targeting cholesterol absorption, they are investigating how cholesterol metabolism and transport affect cholesterol levels and atherosclerotic disease. Cholesterol transporters are vital in regulating blood cholesterol levels, hence the team is testing small molecules that can influence the function of these transporters to develop drugs that lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Beatriz Romartinez-Alonso, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study, expressed her excitement about contributing to the project: “This has been a great project to work on, discovering new science highly relevant to human health.”

This groundbreaking discovery marks a significant step forward in our understanding of cholesterol absorption and metabolism. By identifying the role of Aster B and Aster C in transporting cholesterol, researchers have unveiled new possibilities for developing targeted therapeutic interventions that could potentially prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke. With further research and development, these findings could lead to innovative treatments that combat high cholesterol and lower the risks associated with heart disease, ultimately saving lives.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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