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Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism Research Unit

 Director: Professor Derick Raal

The Unit focuses on the epidemiological, clinical and biochemical aspects of common diseases affecting lipid and glucose metabolism in different ethnic groups of southern Africa. These include familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) and other dyslipidaemias, insulin resistance, the metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus as well as other related metabolic disorders.

The Unit is well recognized both nationally and internationally for their work on familial hypercholesterolaemia, one of the commonest inherited disorders worldwide caused by a defect on chromosome 19 which renders the body unable to remove low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from the blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol are a risk factor for atherosclerosis at an early age.

The Unit has one of the largest cohorts of homozygous FH patients in the world, and undertakes research which contributes to the management of these patients. Pivotal high dose statin studies with simvastatin, atorvastatin and rosuvastatin perfomed in the Unit confirmed the efficacy of high dose statin therapy in these patients. Although ideal LDL cholesterol levels are not achieved with the use of high dose statins, cardiovascular morbidity and mortality has definitely been reduced and life expectancy has been prolonged.

Although the Unit continues to conduct studies in subjects with FH and has been integrally involved in the research and development of novel lipid-modifying therapy in this patient group, the Unit has also studied risk factors for, and metabolic aspects of, atherosclerosis within the South African Black population.