Protecting your heart may one day be as easy as rolling up your sleeves: A new vaccine may help prevent heart disease, according to a preliminary new study just published in the
In the study, researchers injected mice with either a control vaccine or one called AT04A. Four weeks after the first injection, the mice started eating a heart unhealthy, high-fat, Westernized diet for 18 weeks in order to trigger the development of high cholesterol and plaque buildup in their arteries. They received five shots total.
After 18 weeks of the unhealthy diet, the researchers discovered that the AT04A vaccine reduced the levels of total cholesterol by 53 percent, shrank damage to the blood vessels caused by plaque buildup by 64 percent, and reduced biomarkers of blood vessel inflammation by up to 28 percent.
So how does this work? The AT04A vaccine triggers the production of antibodies against PCSK9—an enzyme that prevents your body from clearing LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, from your blood. By working against PCSK9, your body can more effectively get rid of excess cholesterol.
In the study, the influx of antibodies remained throughout the 18 weeks. This shows that it’s likely the cholesterol-reducing effects would be long-lasting, study author Günther Staffler said in a press release. It’s possible that after the first vaccination, it might work with just an annual booster.
Now, it’s important to note that the study is still preliminary, and so far, the vaccine has only proven effective in mice. But a phase 1 clinical trial—which involves humans—is currently under way to see if the results translate to people, too. That study is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.
It’s also important to study the safety implications, too: One potential concern that comes with messing with PCSK9 is an increased risk of diabetes, researchers write in an accompanying editorial. So if the vaccine does come with that risk, experts would have to determine whether it outweighs the benefit of lowering cholesterol.