Sian Claire Owen, Medical Journalist for Cardio Debate

A study published in the European Heart Journal recently hit the headlines, saying that a ‘cholesterol-lowering vaccine’ can be used to reduce the risk of heart attacks. [1]

The study was carried out in mice bred to develop heart and vascular disease. They were fed on a ‘Western-type’ diet for 18 weeks, before being administered the AT04A vaccine – developed by Austrian biotech firm AFFiRis.

This resulted in ‘high and persistent’ antibody levels against PCSK9, significantly reducing plasma total cholesterol (-58%, P>0.001) compared with controls. Furthermore, plasma inflammatory markers including serum amyloid, macrophage-derived chemokine, cytokine stem cell factor and vascular endothelial growth factor A were also significantly reduced in AT04A-treated mice.

The end result was a reduction in atherosclerotic lesion area of 64 per cent (P=0.004) and aortic inflammation, in addition to more lesion-free aortic segments. [1]

In a statement released by the European Society of Cardiology, study author Dr Gunther Staffler said: “The reduction in total cholesterol levels was significantly correlated with induced antibody concentration, proving that induced antibodies caused the reduction in cholesterol and also are ultimately responsible for the reduction of atherosclerosis development. As antibody concentrations remained high at the end of the study, it can be assumed they would continue to reduce cholesterol levels for some time afterwards, resulting in a long-lasting effect, as has been shown in previous studies.”

He added that: “If these findings translate successfully into humans, this could mean that, as the induced antibodies persist for months after a vaccination, we could develop a long-lasting therapy that, after the first vaccination, just needs an annual booster. This would result in an effective and more convenient treatment for patients, as well as higher patient compliance.” [2]

According to NHS News, beyond the attention-grabbing headlines in the mainstream media, the coverage was accurate – that this research, although is currently in the early stages, has great potential to help fight heart disease in the future. [3]