APR 13, 2018 10:39 AM PDT

An Anti-Atherosclerosis Vaccine

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Drugs that reduce cholesterol, like statins, can treat existing heart disease, but what if there was way to prevent heart disease from happening in the first place? This is the idea behind a new anti-atherosclerosis vaccine developed by scientists from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.

Micrograph of a coronary artery with complex atherosclerosis and narrowing. Credit: Nephron

Atherosclerosis is a disease characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries. Plaques can be made up of all kinds of substances, including cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin. As plaque collects on vessel walls, arteries grow thicker, narrowing the space for blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients, to flow through to reach tissues all over the body. Because of this, atherosclerosis can be a precursor to all sorts of heart disease: coronary heart disease, angina, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and chronic kidney disease.

Being able to prevent plaque buildup would be a game-changer in the world of heart health, because many people affected by atherosclerosis are unaware of their condition.

"Men in their 50's with apparently normal cholesterol may be at risk," explained senior author Klaus Ley, MD. "Only [after a heart attack would] their [doctors] realize they had atherosclerotic disease."

Vaccination is a viable solution to preventing this scenario. Researchers tested this possibility first in atherosclerotic mice. They vaccinated the mice with a piece of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and saw that it successfully reduced plaque levels. To do so they extracted a piece of the core LDL protein.

Using that same approach, researchers tested the ability of the protein to attract immune cells in human blood samples. The samples were taken from women with and without plaque accumulation in the carotid arteries. From this experiment, researchers found a specific type of T cells responsible for the positive outcomes observed in the experiment with mice.

"We knew atherosclerosis had an inflammatory component but until recently didn't have a way to counteract that," Ley explained. "We now find that our vaccination actually decreases plaque burden by expanding a class of protective T cells that curb inflammation."

These protective T cells are CD4+ regulatory T cells (Tregs). Compared to blood samples from women without plaques, there were significantly less Tregs in the samples from atherosclerotic women. Instead of Tregs, researchers identified different types of T cells that were not as common in samples without plaque formation. Researchers are theorizing that during the development of heart disease, T cells experience a molecular change that prevents them from targeting atherosclerotic plaques.

"Once we can manipulate the immune response with a single peptide or epitope, we will be able to create more highly targeted vaccines with fewer non-specific responses,” Ley explained.

The potential vaccine would likely be given in addition to statin drugs. The next step? Develop an effective human vaccine.

The present study was published in the journal Circulation.

Sources: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, American Heart Association

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
JUN 25, 2018
JUN 25, 2018
An Emerging Chronic Food Allergy: Eosinophilic Esophagitis
There’s a new food allergy in town, and it seems that children with existing allergies at an increased risk of developing it. From the Children&rsquo...
JUL 04, 2018
Drug Discovery
JUL 04, 2018
Increased Dose of Drug 'Rifampin' Effective in Eliminating Tuberculosis Bacterium
According to a randomized controlled trial, a TB drug by the name ‘Rifampin’ was seen to effectively kill TB bacteria in sputum cultures when a...
JUL 19, 2018
JUL 19, 2018
Mom's Microbiome has a Big Impact on Kid's Autism Risk
For many years, scientists have been trying to learn more about the causes of autism....
AUG 29, 2018
AUG 29, 2018
Artificial Intelligence Predicts Response to Immunotherapy
Artificial intelligence can process CT scan images to determine biological and clinical information that can predict immunotherapy efficacy thanks to machine learning....
SEP 03, 2018
SEP 03, 2018
Insulin Boosts the Immune System
Insulin boosts T cells to better fight infection and bolster the immune response....
SEP 11, 2018
Cannabis Sciences
SEP 11, 2018
The Potential Anti-cancer Effects of Cannabinoids
They're known for helping to reduce the impact of cancer drug side effects, but it's possible that cannabinoids themselves are cancer fighters....
Loading Comments...