Dr. Chris Siow
Innovative Therapy Research Laboratory
Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine
Department of Physiology, University of Manitoba
We aim to develop innovative strategies for health maintenance and disease management through innovative value-added agri-food products.
Our research interests: (1) Evidence-based agri-food: Elucidation of the biochemical and molecular mechanisms of extracts or compounds isolated from agri-food and herbal medicine, using cell culture and animal models; (2) Analyses: Antioxidant, chromatography and bioassays; (3) Knowledge translation and promotion of science-based agri-food and herbal medicine in prevention of diseases.
Why is this work important?
The population of Canada and the rest of the world are ageing. With ageing, an increasing incidence of chronic diseases will be expected. In a 2013 Conference Board of Canada report (Health Matters: An Economic Perspective http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=5309) prepared for Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC), it was recognized that chronic diseases contributed to significant and growing costs of healthcare in Canada. In addition, the outcomes of chronic diseases affected both the labour force participation and productivity, thereby impacting the tax base that helps sustain the Canadian economy which in turn funds the healthcare system. While some of these chronic diseases are genetically-linked, many are lifestyle and diet-related. These latter ones are preventable to a certain extent. Besides changing their lifestyle and eating healthier food, consumers have also resorted to self-administration of natural health products (NHP). To encourage the healthier living lifestyle of consumers, many food producers have also introduced added-value agri-food products into the marketplace. Our laboratory aims to provide the science behind the claims of these agri-food products and NHPs so that Canadians can make informed choices.
What techniques and equipment are used in this laboratory?
Using ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) and the available chemistries, we continue to develop protocols to identify bio-active compounds found in various agricultural and medicinal herb extracts. The UPLC system provides significant improvements in resolution, speed and sensitivity when compared to traditional high performance liquid chromatography.
Our laboratory is also capable of routinely measuring the antioxidant capacity of a compound or an extract, using a microplate-based assay system. Two parameters will be measured: total phenolics and oxygen radical absorbency capacity (ORAC), using gallic acid and trolox as controls, respectively.
Identified bio-active compounds and standardized agricultural and medicinal herb extracts will be used to study its protective effects on ischemia/re-perfusion, chronic kidney disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases using a few different model systems.
About Chris Siow
Dr. Siow earned a PhD in Biochemistry from University of Manitoba. He did his first post-doctoral research training with Nobel laureate Paul Greengard at The Rockefeller University in New York and then a second post-doctoral training at University of British Columbia. Dr. Siow began his independent research in the Department of Pharmacology, The University of Hong Kong and returned to Canada in 2003. He was appointed an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology, University of Manitoba. In 2007, Dr. Siow became a Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and was concurrently appointed as an Adjunct Professor in Physiology, University of Manitoba. Dr. Siow’s research is funded by many public and private agencies. He has extensive experience working with industry and has led a university-industry collaborative government-funded multimillion-dollar project to assist the industry partner to modernize and provide a scientific basis for one of their herbal medicine based therapeutic products. He has published over 106 papers in international peer-reviewed scientific journals and is serving as an Associate Editor for the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology.
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Chris Siow
Tel. (204) 235-3457
What is Lingonberry?
The current focus of my research is on the new emerging berry – Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.). Lingonberries are small, tart-tasting, bright red berries that grow wild on short bushes, commonly found in densely wooded areas, sandy bogs, rocky mountain cliffs, and mossy grasslands. The plant is an evergreen shrub native to boreal forests and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. This berry also has many names which include airelle rouge, foxberry, lowbush cranberry, mirtillo rosso, mountain cranberry, mossberry, partridgeberry, preiselbeere, redberry, tyttebaer; in Indigenous languages, cikâsimina, wisakimin, ᐄᐧᓴᑭᒥᐣ or kimminnaq/kallak, ᑲᓪᓚᒃ, and can be found growing wild in the northern regions of Canada.
Health Benefits of Lingonberry
My research found that Manitoba lingonberry has high levels of antioxidants. Low doses of the three major bioactive compounds (anthocyanins) found in lingonberry can protect heart cells (in simulated ischemia/reperfusion model). The amounts used are within the amounts found in blood when people eat berries. Lingonberry may be able to protect the heart when consumed as food.
In my laboratory’s study of kidney injury in rats, the group of rats fed a regular diet supplemented with 1 mL Manitoba lingonberry juice (human-equivalent of 1 cup) prior to the injury had restored kidney function, reduced kidney stress, and reduced inflammatory markers; lingonberries have anti-inflammatory properties! The type of acute kidney injury is the same type of injury that happens in the heart during a heart attack or in the brain during a stroke.
Persons who regularly eat a high-fat diet can develop chronic kidney disease. Treatment options for chronic kidney disease patients are limited to controlling the progression rate of the disease and its associated complications. These high-fat diet consumers can also develop liver disease, even when they drink little or no alcohol. If no action is taken, patients with this disease (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) will develop liver cancer. In experiments conducted by my laboratory, when a group of mice was fed a high-fat diet with 5% added lingonberry, their kidney and liver functions improved. So are all the kidney and liver disease biomarkers, and their fat and glucose levels. Although lingonberry consumption did not change body weight, it decreased fat accumulation and increased fat breakdown in the liver.
As my laboratory has shown that lingonberries have strong antioxidants and possess anti-inflammatory properties, these health beneficial traits can be used as a preventative dietary approach to alleviate acute kidney injury and for cardiovascular health. Our findings also suggest a nutrition-based management option for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and chronic kidney disease, two emerging global public health burden.
The Way Forward
Canadians need to know more about lingonberries. Lingonberries are currently only available through wild harvests in a limited capacity; commercial farms are still preliminary. The research program in my laboratory (R2010) now focuses on the sustainable availability of lingonberries and development of functional food. In collaboration with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists in Morden (MB) and St. John’s, (NL), my laboratory has established pilot lingonberry plots at Morden Research and Development Centre. Thus, call for more lingonberry farmers across the country. Diversified and added-value agriculture will provide a reliable resource for production of healthy lingonberry-based products, for the benefit of all Canadians. We innovate to support Buy Local, Eat Local and help to empower the locals to support the Canadian economy.
“More and more of our patients want us … to help them follow a path to health that includes less-toxic nutrients and herbs when appropriate, combining the best scientific knowledge with an open mind” Jane L. Murray, M.D., Editorial, American Family Physician, Feb 1, Vol. 73, pp396-8, 2006
“Agriculture is emerging as a solution to mitigating climate change, reducing public health problems and costs, making cities more liveable, and creating jobs in a stagnant global economy.” Danielle Nierenberg, Director of Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project, July 6, 2011 (http://www.worldwatch.org/world-population-day-agriculture-offers-huge-opportunities-planet-7-billion-1).
In the News
Awards held by trainees
- Minden and Tom Olenick Research Studentship in Medicine, Undergraduate Medical Education Award of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, 2016, 2017
- AAFC Award for Best Oral Presentation at the Therapeutic Applications of Functional Foods and Bioactives conference, hosted by CCARM, 2016
- Major Research Award (Manitoba) in Cardiovascular Biology, Canadian Student Health Research Forum, 2017
- Manitoba Health Research Council Studentship (now Research Manitoba), 2014-2016
- American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Travel Award, 2014
- BMO Financial Group Research Scholarship for Excellence Inaugural Award, 2013-2014
- Life Science Association of Manitoba Travel Award, 2012
- University of Manitoba Graduate Student Fellowship, 2011-2012
- China Ministry of Education (MOE)-AAFC PhD Research Studentship from China Scholarship Council, 2009-2011
Susara Madduma Hewage
- Mark and Pat Smerchanski Studentship Grant for PhD, 2018-2019
Dr. Siow’s laboratory would like to gratefully acknowledge the following funding agencies and foundations:
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- BMO (Studentships)
- Canadian Foundation for Innovation
- Heart & Stroke Foundation of Manitoba
- Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation
- Manitoba Aboriginal & Northern Affairs
- Manitoba Medical Services Foundation
- Manitoba Research Innovation Fund
- Natural Health Products Directorate (Health Canada)
- Research Manitoba (Studentships)
- The Estate of Marguerite Germaine Jerome
- University of Manitoba (Studentships)
Calling for Lingonberry Growers
The following are versions of the Growing Guide for Lingonberries as mentioned in The Western Producer.
Acknowledgment: These PDFs were creatively designed by Monika Lavallée of the Public Affairs Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.