A new vaccination that prevents heart attacks and could provide an effective alternative to statins is being developed by Austrian scientists.
Promising early research has shown the injection can direct the immune system to lower cholesterol – and if given yearly to at-risk patients, may help keep arteries clear and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Patients have been enrolled into an early-stage clinical trial to see if the approach, so far tested on mice, will work in humans.
The vaccine, known as AT04A, triggers the production of antibodies that target an enzyme involved in regulating levels of blood cholesterol.
This enzyme has been shown to impede the clearance of low-density lipoprotein – the “bad” form of cholesterol that is largely to blame for blocked arteries – from the blood.
Mice fed an unhealthy Western-style fatty diet had their total blood cholesterol lowered by 53 per cent by the vaccine, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal.
Atherosclerotic damage, the build-up of hard fibrous deposits on the walls of arteries, was reduced by 64 per cent and biological markers of blood vessel inflammation by up to 28 per cent compared with unvaccinated mice.
Dr Gunther Staffler, chief technology officer at the Austrian biotech company AFFiRis, which developed the vaccine, indicated people who currently take statins, the most commonly-prescribed medicines in the UK, could benefit from a yearly booster jab instead.
“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,” he said.
“This would result in an effective and more convenient treatment for patients, as well as higher patient compliance.”
Doctors have warned that fears over non-existent side effects of statins are causing thousands of deaths from heart attacks and strokes as patients needlessly avoid the cholesterol-lowering drugs.
The enzyme targeted by the drugs is called PCSK9. It is made in the liver and blocks receptor molecules on cells that allow the body to get rid of harmful cholesterol.
The vaccine causes the body to produce antibodies that lock onto and immobilise the enzyme, so that the receptors can remain active.
Essentially it is an immunotherapy treatment. Unlike a conventional vaccine that targets foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, AT04A marshals the immune system to attack one of the body's own proteins.
A Phase I trial testing the safety and activity of the vaccine in 72 healthy patients was launched at the Medical University of Vienna in 2015. The trial is due to finish at the end of this year.
Six healthy breakfast recipes - in pictures
Six healthy breakfast recipes - in pictures
You will need: 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 1 stick of celery, 1 cup of mushrooms, 4 to 6 eggs, 1 habanero chilli (optional), 1 tablespoon of oil, 25g of grated low-fat cheese, 150 ml of skimmed milk, 50g of turkey breast. Add some spinach for an extra boost.
Method:1) Cook your turkey breast so that it’s ready to add to the mix later on. Best to grill it and then chop it up as it’s healthier than shallow frying. 2) Meanwhile, heat the oil and add your onion, pepper, chilli, mushrooms and celery to your pan. Cook these for around five minutes until your veg is nice and soft. 3) Whisk your eggs and milk together in a separate bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper. 4) Add the egg mixture, veg, cooked turkey and cheese to a high-sided baking pan or tin and cook in your oven for around 15 minutes at 170C.
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Be careful when you buy your porridge, as some brands will cram a lot of sugar in there. Porridge is a good breakfast option as it is renowned for releasing energy slowly, which means you can get to lunch without suffering from a lull. A great source of fibre, potassium and vitamins, bananas are always a good accompaniment to your morning oats.
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Ingredients: 2 full eggs, 3 egg whites, asparagus, peppers, 50g of smoked salmon
Method1) Boil your asparagus in water for around five minutes. 2) Meanwhile, mix your eggs and egg whites in a jug, and add a splash of skimmed milk. Chop some peppers up and throw them in too. 3) Once your asparagus is cooked, drain it and chop into smaller chunks. Add these to your egg mixture. 4) Whisk your mixture and season with salt and pepper. 5) Pour the mix into a hot pan with a small knob of butter or a teaspoon of quality olive oil. 6) Cook the omelette for around 90 seconds to two minutes. 7) Once the bottom is cooked, take the pan off the hob and place under the grill for another 30 seconds to a minute in order to cook the top. 8) Serve with your smoked salmon.
Greek yoghurt has vast nutritional benefits. Regardless of where you stand on the superfood debate, Greek yoghurt’s credentials speak for themselves. A good source of potassium, protein, calcium and essential vitamins, this food forms an ideal base for a healthy breakfast, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Eggs Florentine is not only a tasty breakfast, it also carries a hefty nutritional punch, particularly when you throw some spinach into the equation.
So fast and easy to make, yet so effective. Wholemeal toast can be a good breakfast choice, as long as you are sensible with your toppings. Peanut butter is perfect. A good source of “healthy fats”, as well as protein and Vitamin E among other nutrients, a liberal spreading of peanut butter can set you up for the day.
However, before the vaccine can be licensed and rolled out to patients, larger scale trials focusing on effectiveness as well as safety will have to be carried out.
British expert Dr Tim Chico, reader in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, said: “If similar effects were achieved in humans it would be likely to lead to a reduction in heart attacks.
”This was a well-conducted but very early study, using animals not humans, and many questions remain about whether this approach could work in man.
“The theory is sound and I think this might have the potential to replace the need to take regular cholesterol-lowering drugs.“
He added that it may take ”many years“ to be certain about the long-term safety of the vaccine, which unlike a drug could produce permanent side effects.
Dr Chico said: ”This is yet more proof that cholesterol causes heart disease, and lowering cholesterol reduces risk of heart disease, so it confirms the importance of a healthy lifestyle for everyone and medications such as statins for some people to reduce risk of heart disease.“
One potential safety concern associated with targeting PCSK9 to reduce cholesterol is increasing the risk of diabetes, experts believe.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ”Having high cholesterol can put you at significantly higher risk of a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke. Finding new ways to manage people's cholesterol levels is absolutely vital.
“Although only tested in mice, this vaccine could lead to a simple way to target high cholesterol and ultimately reduce people's risk of heart disease.
“More research is needed to show that the vaccine is an effective and safe treatment for patients. In the meantime, the best way to reduce your cholesterol is to quit smoking, eat a healthy balanced diet and take any prescribed medicine such as statins as recommended by your GP.”
Additional reporting from Press AssociationReuse content