Can a new cholesterol-lowering vaccine end the need to take daily statins, which have been documented to come with a range of side effects? A research team from the National Institutes of Health and the University of New Mexico says yes.

A new vaccine was seen to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in mice and macaques, according to research published in the journal Vaccine. Positioned as an alternative to statins taken by people worldwide to lower LDL cholesterol, the new vaccine targets a protein that controls blood cholesterol levels.

"One of the most exciting things about this new vaccine is it seems to be much more effective than statins alone," said study author Bryce Chackerian, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of New Mexico.

Cholesterol is naturally produced by the body to create vitamin D and other hormones and molecules to assist in food digestion. It is also found in foods. When LDL cholesterol - the so-called “bad” cholesterol - builds up, it can block arteries and lead to conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

About 73.5 million American adults are diagnosed with high LDL cholesterol, and many take statin drugs to manage their levels. However, statins have been seen to cause debilitating side effects such as cognitive loss, increased diabetes risk and muscle pain.

The new cholesterol vaccine targets PCSK9, a protein that regulates blood cholesterol. It urges the body to break down receptors that cholesterol binds to as it is flushed out of the system, the researchers explained.

The testing done on mice and a small group of monkeys yielded positive results in reducing LDL cholesterol.

Study author Dr. Alan Remaley of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said that while they remain commonly prescribed and effective in certain individuals, statins have side effects and do not work effectively for some people.

"The results of our vaccine were very striking, and suggest it could be a powerful new treatment for high cholesterol,” he added.

Currently approved and sold cholesterol treatments targeting the protein are cost-prohibitive, costing patients upwards of $10,000 annually. The new vaccine is poised to be more effective than such monoclonal antibody-based solutions, and the researchers are set to expand their study and find commercial partners for vaccine development.

Under the National Health Service guidelines in England, 40 percent of adults are advised to take statins, aiming to prevent 50,000 deaths a year from heart attack and stroke. In 2014, the “risk threshold” was cut in half, qualifying an additional 4.5 million for treatment.

A majority of men ages 60 and above, as well as women over 65, are now offered statins despite their slim one in 10 chance of developing cardiovascular illness within a decade.

In the United States, statin therapy is recommended for people 40 to 75 years old without cardiovascular disease and have a 7.5 percent or higher risk for stroke or heart attack within a decade; those aged 21 years old and older who have a very high LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL or above and those with similar risks.

The current statin use guidelines are a dramatic shift from federal cholesterol recommendations in 2002, which targeted people for statin use if their 10-year risk exceeded 20 percent.

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