A new vaccine developed by scientists at the University of New Mexico and the National Institutes of Health shows promise as a cholesterol-lowering agent, one potentially more effective than the statin drugs millions of Americans currently take to keep their cholesterol levels in check.
Unlike statins, which reduce cholesterol by hindering the liver’s ability to produce it in the first place, the vaccine targets a specific protein in the liver called PCSK9. The protein helps regulate the amount of cholesterol in the blood, and when it’s reduced, cholesterol levels are, too.
According to a recently published study in the journal Vaccine, the drug has proven effective in mice and macaques, both of which showed “significant reductions” in total cholesterol, free cholesterol, phospholipids and triglycerides after receiving the vaccine.
“Statins are still the most commonly prescribed medication for cholesterol. Although they are effective in many people, [they] do have side effects and don’t work for everyone,” Dr. Alan Remaley, one of the authors of the study from the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in a press release. “The results of our vaccine were very striking, and suggest it could be a powerful new treatment for high cholesterol.”
While the body requires some cholesterol for the manufacture of hormones and vitamin D, and for food digestion, too much of the “bad” cholesterol variant (known as “low-density lipoproteins” or “LDL” cholesterol) contributes to heart disease and significantly increases the likelihood of a stroke. Recent research has also linked high LDL levels to cancer growth and recurrence.
The CDC estimates that 71 million Americans suffer from high LDL levels, with less than half of them receiving treatment.