Fats!

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Dr. Marc Surette, a professor at Université de Moncton and Canada Research Chair in Cellular Lipid Metabolism, to put it simply, studies fats.

The word ”fat” may conjure images of oil and butter and of fleshy body padding and carry a rather negative connotation, but in reality, fats play many more roles than those familiar ones and are very important to human health.

The presence of lipids in cell membranes and their effect on biological processes is the specific role of lipids that Dr. Surette and his research team study. Since the fats found in cell membranes are involved in the communication between cells, the decisions made by cells regarding fat are important for the immune system and can have consequences on the development of asthma and cardiovascular diseases among others. In fact, many common medications, such as Aspirin and Singulair (a medication for asthma), target the way the cells manage fats to help rectify various health problems.

One of Dr. Surette’s current projects involves the development of products providing healthy fats (mainly stearidonic acid) similar to the ones found in fish. These products would be made from, among other Atlantic Canada bio-resources, the seeds of a plant that is currently being developed (this plant has not been grown commercially before, therefore agricultural methods need to be developed) and studied in the Atlantic region and that could later be cultivated in the Atlantic region. This project will require a projected five years before products could be put on the market. Half of this time has passed and the project is still on schedule.

Other projects involve studying the way the distribution of lipids in cell membranes affects cell reproduction (without a particular distribution of lipids in the cell membrane, a cell is unable to reproduce itself and dies) and the impact iron deficiency during pregnancy can have on fat metabolism during development and the baby’s health later on. Possible applications of knowledge gained from the study of these topics include the development of drugs that can be used in cocktail treatments for cancer and of public health initiatives focused on iron deficiency.

More information can be found at http://www.nbif.ca/eng/portfolio/surette/.

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on February 5th, 2011.
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