June 23, 2024

The scientist whose work led to the creation of statins, a chemical that prevents heart attacks and strokes, has died aged 90.

Akira Endo found the first cholesterol-lowering compound in a laboratory in Tokyo in 1973. The Japanese biochemist is said to have been inspired by Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928, which led him to study mold or fungi to develop medicine.

Statins work by reducing the concentration of “bad” cholesterol in the blood and have helped extend the lives of millions of people.

Prof Bryan Williams, the chief scientist and medical officer at the British Heart Foundation, described Endo as “a remarkable scientist”.

He told BBC News: “It was really the precursor to the development of statin drugs,” adding, “They absolutely changed the prevention of heart disease and stroke.

“There are very few treatments in medicine that have occurred in recent years that have had such a dramatic impact.”

Doctors now routinely prescribe statins to people who have had a heart attack, and those who are at high risk of heart disease or stroke.

Williams said: “Amazingly, the man who started the process of working out how to deal with the problem of cholesterol – and provided a treatment that has benefited and saved many, many millions of people’s lives – never had the [Nobel] price. I think it’s a shame.”

Endo was born in rural Japan in 1933 and went on to study biochemistry at Tohoku University.

It was while working for the Japanese pharmaceutical company Sankyo in 1973 that he made his discovery. At the time, the only way to lower “bad” cholesterol was to combine an unpalatable diet with medication that caused unpleasant side effects.

It took many years of studying thousands of fungi and brewing mushroom soups before finding one that lowered cholesterol.

After testing 6,000 different concoctions, Endo and his lab assistants tested a substance made by Penicillium citrinum, a blue-green mold isolated from the rice of a Kyoto trader similar to the mold found on old oranges and lemons. growth.

In 1987, the first statin, lovastatin, was approved for clinical use in the US.

Endo was awarded the 22nd Japan Prize in 2006 and the Lasker Award, known as America’s Nobel Prize, in 2008.

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