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Trees against disease: the scientists of Siberian State Medical University have found that the substance contained in birch leaves can remove cholesterol from a body


The results of the long-term joint research of Siberian State Medical University allowed the scientists to prove that L-rhamnopyranosyl-6-O-methyl-D-galacturonan contained in the leaves of the Silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) can remove up to 40 grams of cholesterol from a body per day. It ensues from the binding of bile acids entering the digestive tract with bile; at the same time, the absorption of fats and cholesterol is blocked in the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract, and the cholesterol in the body is spent on the synthesis of new bile acids.

In recent years, science and practical medicine have increasingly agreed that herbal medicines, in comparison with synthetic medicines, are more physiological, safe, and preferable for the human body.

The joint work on the study of medicinal plants is traditionally being conducted by the scientists of Siberian State Medical University since the 1960s. However, in the early 21st century, with the emergence of high-tech methods of analysis, the attention of scientists was drawn to a unique group of biologically active plants' substances called polysaccharides. Because of the complexity of the chemical structure and the lack of sufficient methods of analysis, these substances were not considerably prominent in the scientific community, so they remained insufficiently studied for a long time. The first experiments with polysaccharides that were extracted from various types of medicinal plants demonstrated the ability of birch polysaccharides to reduce the level of cholesterol and lipids in the blood of the experimental animals. However, the results raised even more questions, such as "How does this happen and why?", provoking a new wave of experiments that marked the beginning of a detailed study that continues at the Central Research Laboratory of SSMU to this day.

"Every Russian is aware of the healing properties of birch, but among other things, we have found that it conceals a high potential for lowering cholesterol. Its unique polysaccharides structure contains active centers that can bind bile acids and excrete them while blocking the absorption of fats and cholesterol. Besides, cholesterol precisely serves as the "raw material" for the synthesis of bile acids in the liver. With the active removal of bile acids, cholesterol is being always consumed by the human body instead of for the synthesis of more and more portions of bile acids, than for the formation of the plaques in blood vessels," – pointed Artem Guryev, D. Pharm.Sci., the Head of the Technology Implementation Center (SibMed). - It should also be noted that the effect of herbal medicaments, as a rule, is milder than that of synthetic ones, such as statins, for example, which have several serious side effects. However, despite the negative aspects of taking synthetic medicaments, in clinical practice, it is not uncommon for the index of cholesterol metabolism to reach a critical point, so taking statins becomes vital. At the same time, there are opposite situations when lipid metabolism indicators allow to perform the "soft" prophylaxis, without the use of synthetic medicaments. In these cases, correctly selected herbal medicines will prove to be the most effective", - explained Artem Guryev.

By the end of the laboratory tests, which established the activity of the polysaccharide L-rhamnopyranosyl-6-O-alkyl-D-galacturonan contained in birch leaves, more complex and detailed studies were required to prove the safety of this substance. It prompted a team of scientists led by Artem Guryev to apply for a grant from the federal purpose-oriented program “Development of The Pharmaceutical and Medical Technology Industry of the Russian Federation for the period till 2020 and beyond” (FPP Pharma 2020). The application was approved, which allowed continuing work. As a result of 3 years of research performed simultaneously by several research teams of Siberian State Medical University and Goldberg Research Institute of Pharmacology and Regenerative Medicine, a prototype of the future medicament was developed, and a comprehensive study of its safety and effectiveness was undertaken. The next step is to conduct clinical studies of new medicine.

The development of new medicines is a lengthy and challenging process. Several years or even, quite often, several decades pass between the beginning of development to the moment when the medicament gets to the patient. Taken into account these peculiarities, along with the creation of the medicines, the scientists began developing a biologically active supplement based on birch polysaccharides to make this technology as accessible to the patients as possible. Naturally, in the leaves of the Silver birch, the active centers of the polysaccharide are blocked by the organic molecules and therefore are not able to bind and excrete cholesterol. However, the Technology Implementation Center of Siberian State Medical University has developed a technology that allows to release these active centers and utilize the potential of the birch as a mean of reducing cholesterol in the form of dietary supplements.

"Why are such developments demanded by clinicians and have excellent prospects for widespread use? The answer is quite simple: cardiovascular diseases and atherosclerotic diseases of the heart blood vessels, the brain vessels, and the lower extremity arteries are the leading causes of mortality and reduced life expectancy in all countries. There are several groups of medications that can inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis. Still, they are costly, patients often have drug intolerance, or there are restrictions on the use of these medications in certain categories of patients (adolescents, pregnant women). These ultimately lead to a shortening of the treatment regimen, dosages, medication discontinuation, and a complete lack of effect. That is why lipid-lowering agents from natural raw materials are effective and safe. The medical community is looking with great hope at the development and testing of this medication," – said Tatyana Saprina, endocrinologist, MD, Professor of the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetology (SibMed). 

It is planned to produce dietary supplements called "Секветон" (Sekveton) on the basis of our industrial partner, the "Вистерра" (Visterra) company, which production is located in Altai Krai. "We have already technologically audited their factory and made sure that the plant raw materials used by the factory are collected in ecologically clean areas of Altai and thoroughly checked," – mentioned Artem Guryev. "Our team hopes that soon the results of our many years of work will be available to everyone and will improve the quality of people's life."