The vaccine led to reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol in tests involving mice and macaques, and holds promise in treating people, according to research published in the journal Vaccine by scientists from the University of New Mexico and the National Institutes of Health.
“One of the most exciting things about this new vaccine is it seems to be much more effective than statins alone,” said Dr. Bryce Chackerian, who helped conduct the study.
Cholesterol is produced by the body to make vitamin D, some hormones, and molecules that help us digest food. It is also found in foods. But if a person has too much LDL cholesterol, the arteries can become blocked, leading to heart disease and stroke.
According to the CDC, 73.5 million Americans have high LDL cholesterol. While diet and exercise can keep it in check, millions of people worldwide take statins to lower their cholesterol. Statins have potentially serious side effects, such as muscle pain, an increased risk of diabetes and cognitive loss.
But the new vaccine could provide an alternative to statins, by targeting a protein called PCSK9 that controls cholesterol levels in the blood, without posing those side effects. A single vaccine was able to reduce cholesterol levels dramatically in laboratory animals, suggesting it could be an effective treatment in humans.
“Statins are still the most commonly prescribed medication for cholesterol. Although they are effective in many people, do have side effects and don’t work for everyone,” said Dr. Alan Remaley, one of the authors of the study from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. “The results of our vaccine were very striking, and suggest it could be a powerful new treatment for high cholesterol.”