Dissolving the cholesterol away with Cyclodextrin - By : Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes,

Dissolving the cholesterol away with Cyclodextrin

Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes
Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes Author profile
Luis Felipe Gerlein R. is a Ph.D. candidate at ÉTS. His research interests include nanofabrication and characterization of optoelectronic devices based on lead chalcogenides, carbon-based nanostructures and perovskite materials.


Recent investigations revealed that a sugar, cyclodextrin, helps reduce and even prevent cholesterol build-up in arteries and other vascular systems.  Further effects include re-programming the cells on the immune system to aid the dissolution and elimination of cholesterol excess.  It also improves the inflammation response of the body, factor that reduces the risk of vessels fracturing and the formation of clots.

As we know, the presence of cholesterol in the blood is associated with serious diseases like atherosclerosis. Here, the deposition of cholesterol, calcium, and cellular waste products in the walls of arteries form plaques that stick to the internal walls of blood vessels. In time, the plaques, a.k.a. fatty deposits, harden reducing the proper blood flow and their natural elasticity, potentially leading to heart attacks and strokes.


Figure 1. Low magnification micrograph of the distal right coronary artery with complex atherosclerosis and luminal narrowing. Masson’s trichrome. Arteries have three layers (tunica intima, tunica media and tunica adventitia). These can be seen on the micrograph:

Adventitia (outermost layer) = green fluffy material (collagen),

Media (middle (muscular) part) = red (smooth muscle actin),

Intima (inner part, in contact with the blood) = green (collagen) with some red (smooth muscle actin). Source.

Improving the treatment of cardiovascular diseases will help the lives of millions worldwide, especially in industrialized countries where death rates tend to be higher.  Over 40% of adult population in Canada alone have unhealthy levels of cholesterol that could yield serious cardiovascular diseases.

The research group led by Prof. Eike Lazt from the Universitätsklinikum Bonn in Germany recently proved the efficacy of the oligosaccharide called cyclodextrin as a possible component to deliver a more successful treatment for atherosclerosis.  Simply put, Cyclodextrin is a small molecule that makes cholesterol more soluble and therefore, easy to eliminate from the body.

In their study, the authors show that mice treated with Cyclodextrin showed a reduction in the size of the fatty deposits in the blood vessels.  Additionally, they report a positive reduction in the amount of cholesterol crystals present in the mice blood.   These results open the way to include Cyclodextrin in therapies for treatment of cholesterol-based cardiovascular diseases.


The natural metabolic mechanism present in our bodies that helps to regulate cholesterol, fatty acids and glucose levels is called the liver X receptor (LXR).  When levels are high, the receptor sends a signal to the body that activates the elimination process.   Unfortunately, this response is not always fast enough to compete with the amount of fatty deposits created thanks to an unhealthy diet and sedentary life.

A therapy based on cyclodextrin could boost the response to the LXR signal and help the body to be more efficient leveling down high levels of cholesterol.  It was additionally found that cyclodextrin re-program immune cells to optimize the behavior of macrophages.  These highly specialized phagocytes are in charge of the removal of dying or dead cells and cellular debris, an important role to help reduce inflammation.  This is similar to the response the body has to antihistamines when faced with mild allergy symptoms.


Figure 2  Normal vs. Partially-Blocked Vessel. See a related animation of this medical topic. Source

The good news is that this molecule is already approved for human consumption. In fact, thanks to that same property of making other compounds more soluble that cyclodextrin is already present in commercial air fresheners and a wide range of medicines and drugs.  There are known risks associated to directly injecting this molecule such as liver damage or hearing loss.  By dissolving the fatty deposits, large amounts of fat could end up accumulating in the liver, impairing its correct operation.

The route now is start human clinical trials to assess safety and prove its effect in the human body as a potential drug to treat high cholesterol and clogged arteries.   The bad news is that this compound cannot be subject of a patent and finding sponsors to start the expensive human trials can be a problem since pharmaceutical companies may not be interested in this investment.  Time will tell.

This study is available at this source.


Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes

Author's profile

Luis Felipe Gerlein R. is a Ph.D. candidate at ÉTS. His research interests include nanofabrication and characterization of optoelectronic devices based on lead chalcogenides, carbon-based nanostructures and perovskite materials.

Program : Electrical Engineering 

Research chair : Canada Research Chair in Printed Hybrid Optoelectronic Materials and Devices 

Author profile

Get the latest scientific news from ÉTS