Raising a Glass to Research

Leading the way in heart health

Cheers! Bottoms up! Skol! – all fun things to say when you’re enjoying a beverage with a friend. But if you’re clinking wine glasses with Dr. Thomas Netticadan, he’d rather say “à la santé!” or “to your health!”

Netticadan and his team at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre’s Heart Failure Research Laboratory and the Canadian Centre for Agri-food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM), and his collaborators, Dr. Shelley Zeiroth and Dr. Amrit Malik at the St. Boniface Hospital are the first research group in the world to advance the study of the impact of resveratrol in heart failure patients.

Resveratrol is a compound found in the skin of red grapes and then makes its way into our glasses of red wine. It is an antioxidant that – thanks to Dr. Netticadan and company – has been proven in the lab to prevent the progression of cardiac hypertrophy.  It means that resveratrol can halt the harmful growth of the heart (heart disease) which ultimately becomes heart failure.

Netticadan has been studying resveratrol in animal models of heart disease since 2004. The recent conclusions, now being tested in clinical trials with heart failure patients, are only one part of the story.

Resveratrol from bench to bedside

“We have already published a successful resveratrol clinical trial on diabetes,” he says. “It has lowered blood sugar, blood insulin levels, and improved HDL cholesterol – that’s the good cholesterol. Ours was the third successful clinical trial in the world for Type 2 diabetic patients, but it is the most important because it lowered blood glucose by 19% which has been observed in patients who are on Metformin and standard medications for diabetes.”

Resveratrol is a phytoalexin, he explains, “It’s a molecule that combats infection and other stresses. It has multiple applications – skin infections for example. .

Ultimately, Netticadan is trying to demonstrate that resveratrol has a role to play in preventing heart disease as well as treating it. The potential impact is enormous as heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America and in other parts of the world. “Well, we need just a few more years of research for confirmation,” he says. “It’s already proven to be successful in  recent heart disease clinical trials conducted in Europe. If the trend continues, and we see a positive outcome in our heart failure clinical trial , I think resveratrol may become a part of standard heart failure therapy.”

“If the trend continues and we see no negative effects, I think resveratrol will probably become a part of standard medication.”

This is the job for me

Growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai), Netticadan initially had little  interest in the sciences. He was a history and geography buff, but moved towards biology when he realized that India’s job market at the time wasn’t looking for a lot of geographers and historians.

“Somewhere in that journey I realized that I want to be a professor. I didn’t know what it was all about, but seeing my professors teach –– I was fascinated,” says Netticadan who still teaches. “I thought the world of them, and now that I am one for 13 years, this is the job for me. I love it.”

After leaving the University of Bombay, Netticadan did postdoctoral work in Paris, France, and London, Ontario, before coming to Winnipeg as a Research Associate. He took a quick trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, as a visiting scientist, and then returned to the University of Manitoba as an Assistant Professor. Currently, a St. Boniface Hospital Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, he remains an Adjunct Professor at U. of M. Aside from his work with grapes and resveratrol, he is also studying  the cardiovascular benefits of blueberries,  blackberries, raspberries and Saskatoon berries.

Taking parental advice “to heart”

Netticadan credits his success and his love of learning to his late parents.

“My mom and dad – like most East Indian moms and dads, want you to reach the top of whichever field you pursue. Whether it’s medicine, engineering, science, art, commerce, whatever, my mom and dad wanted me to get to the top; to achieve the highest level of education,” he reflects. “They put all of their resources into their three kids’ education, more than into material wealth..”

Netticadan’s respect and love for his parents is largely reflected in his work.

“My mom and dad both had heart disease. My mom had heart disease due to diabetes, and my dad had heart disease due to hypertension,” he says. “That is a big motivator for me to be in the cardiovascular field, to do research, and I’m doing exactly the research I want to do; that’s heart disease, heart failure, and heart disease that is secondary to hypertension and diabetes.”

To learn more about Dr. Netticadan’s research visit www.sbrc.ca/netticadan.

Dr. Thomas Netticadan
Principal Investigator, Heart Failure Research
Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine, St. Boniface Hospital Research
Adjunct Professor of Physiology & Pathophysiology, University of Manitoba

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