Poland develops atherosclerosis „vaccine”. Will it prove to be a success?

Tętnica osoby zdrowej (z lewej) oraz chorej na zaawansowaną miażdżycę, źródło: Wikipedia, aut. Irfansevket2905 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Polish and Iranian researchers test a vaccine-like medication that can help to overcome the most common contemporary civilization disease. The jab against atherosclerosis is meant to help in the long-term lowering of the so-called bad cholesterol in the body.

Atherosclerosis occurs as a result of the accumulation of fatty deposits in the walls of blood vessels.

More specifically, the disease usually develops in medium and large arteries. The accumulating fat makes the artery narrowing, which in turn impedes the blood flow. Consequently, atherosclerosis can lead to several cardiological problems.

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How does atherosclerosis develop?

Atherosclerosis is one of the most common civilization health problems in the world and is the cause (according to the Global Burden of Disease research) of the 75 percent of cardiological diseases in the world.

Many factors can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. The innate features, including impaired blood vessel walls functioning, matter a lot. Lipid disorders, associated with too high levels of LDL cholesterol (commonly known as „bad cholesterol”), also play a role.

Another essential factor is lifestyle. Bad diet and lack of physical activity, as well as overweight and obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, hypertension, diabetes or hypothyroidism, and long-term use of certain medications, e.g. corticosteroids, can all lead to atherosclerosis.

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How does the atherosclerosis vaccine work?

Scientists from the Medical University of Lodz under the supervision of Professor Maciej Banach, cardiologist specializing in the treatment of hypertension and the chairman of the Polish Lipidological Society, is developing a drug served in the form of a vaccine that would allow long-term reduction of LDL cholesterol in patients.

The method used is based on the inhibition of the PCSK9 protein, which plays a key role in the metabolism of LDL cholesterol. The medication contains nanoliposomes – spherical structures made of several layers of the lipid membrane. There is water inside.

The carrier for them, however, is tetanus exotoxins. This makes the medicine trigger a response of the human immune system, so the whole thing works like a vaccine, although theoretically, it is not a vaccine, since atherosclerosis is not an infectious disease.

The studies in mice have shown so far that the medicine works like a vaccine. After three or four doses, provided with 2-weeks intervals between the subsequent doses, body launches a long-lasting response, which resulted in reducing the LDL cholesterol level.

Studies showed that the vaccine reduces cholesterol level by about 45 percent, and LDL cholesterol by as much as 52 percent. After 16 weeks, the ability to reduce cholesterol decreased to 42 percent, which is still enough, so there is no need for regular injections.

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Time for extensive human testing

The idea to create a vaccine against atherosclerosis is not new, as it was born in the 1990s. But it was long believed to be risky, as scientists believed that with the simultaneous reduction of atherosclerosis, unfavorable inflammation could occur.

The Discovery od white role of PCSK9 has changed the course of things. Poles also participated in these studies and they were the first to discover how to inhibit this protein without risking inflammation and the resulting damage to the body.

Banach’s team has already started testing their medicine on humans. The toxicological studies which show that the jab is safe. Consequently, a time has comes for the next stage, aimed at calculating the dosage and method of administration of the new medicine, as well as the effectiveness of the vaccine in various groups of people.

„Perhaps, (thank to the medicine) the approach to the treatment of atherosclerosis will change in a radical way,” Banach told Puls Medycyny magazine. Last year, the same medicine placed him 3rd among the 100 most influential people in Polish medicine.