A Vaccine Against Bad LDL Cholesterol?

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vaccineMillions of Americans have high cholesterol rates that put them at risk for blocked arteries and heart disease. Changing one’s diet drastically and exercising can help fix that. Prescriptions for statins and other drugs are among the most common treatments. But, some people need a heart bypass or angioplasty. Now, however, there is hope for a new easy way to fight against bad LDL cholesterol congestion – a vaccine.

A vaccine that targets the harmful LDL cholesterol has proved promising in testing on mice and macaque monkeys. If tests continue to show its effectiveness, humans could soon get a vaccine could prevent plague from building up in their arteries or eradicate any life-threatening clumps of cholesterol that have accumulated.

In an effort to provide a cheaper and more effective means of treating cholesterol problems and saving lives, researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Mexico have been conducting the trials on the cholesterol-lowering vaccine. Their efforts are described in the latest issue of the journal, Vaccine.

Cholesterol is a form of fat in the bloodstream that is produced by the liver. Humans need adequate levels of cholesterol to build cell walls, produce hormones, and enable other bodily functions. Foods from animals, such as meats, eggs, cheese and milk, supply the body with additional cholesterol. But too much cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries.

Researchers identified a protein that controls the cholesterol levels in people’s blood. People with low levels of the protein – PCSK9 – have a decreased risk of heart disease. Conversely, those with mutations of PCSK9 have a higher risk. That is why researchers decided to isolate and target that protein as a means of controlling cholesterol levels.

To test their theory, the research team injected mice with the shot they developed, which was designed to stop the PCSK9 from working. The results were a lowering of cholesterol levels in the mice. Their next step was to repeat the testing in a group of monkeys, which saw similar dramatic results.

This is not the only approach being developed that targets PCSK9. Drug companies are also working on drugs that target PCSK9. Those results have been positive so far. Two recently were approved by the FDA, Alirocumab and Evolocumab, but are expected to be expensive and cost about $10,000 per year. Creating an effective vaccination, on the other hand, will cost a fraction of the amount and be widely used as a preventive tool, versus prescription drugs which would probably only be administered when a problem is identified.

“Statins are still the most commonly prescribed medication for cholesterol,” according to study co-author Dr. Alan Remaley, a researcher with the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, in a press statement. He noted that statins do have side effects and, while very effective for many people, they do not work for everyone. He added, “The results of our vaccine were very striking, and suggest it could be a powerful new treatment for high cholesterol.” The vaccine against bad LDL cholesterol needs to be tested in clinical trials with human patients, however, before the true benefits and possible side effects can be determined.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

Elsevier: New vaccine could prevent high cholesterol
The Telegraph: Cholesterol vaccine could end need for daily statins
Medical Daily: Vaccine Could Lower LDL Cholesterol Levels And Prevent Clogged Arteries: A Better And Cheaper Cholesterol-Lowering Option
Daily Mail: Could a vaccine replace the need for daily statins? New injection ‘could prove more powerful at reducing levels of bad cholesterol

Photo by Rhoda Baer courtesy of the National Cancer Institute