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Fighting heart disease with a vaccine?

According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the U.S. There are many factors which can contribute to CVD, including atherosclerosis and hypertension. Further, atherosclerosis can lead to hypertension, and both can be caused by a multitude of underlying causes. Needless to say, the subject can be quite challenging to understand.

A number of drugs are currently on the market to manage medical conditions which can predispose us to CVD. Statins, for example, are used to treat hypercholesterolemia (high levels of bad cholesterol in the blood) which can cause blood vessel hardening and plaque build up -- the process which leads to atherosclerosis. However, according to Jan Nilsson, Professor of Experimental Cardiovascular Research at Lund University, Sweden, "existing treatments only reduce the risk of patients experiencing a CVD event by 40 percent. Although such results are encouraging, it shouldn't be forgotten that 60 percent of CVD events continue to occur."

At the Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology meeting a few weeks ago, Nilsson discussed the development and current clinical trials of a potential vaccine which aims at preventing CVD events. He notes that this was achieved in 60-70 percent of studied mice and that human trials are currently being conducted in the U.S. and Canada. The vaccine aims to stimulate our own immune system to target sites of plaque build-up and thereby prevent the development of arterial hardening and dysfunction.

This potential treatment represents a unique way to tackle CVD and provides yet another therapeutic avenue for patients. However, Nilsson also points to the likely high costs of the product should it successfully enter the market, and that it would likely be reserved for those with serious underlying genetic predispositions to CVD or cases which are refractory or not conducive to conventional treatment.