Heart disease has been one of the major causes of death in India and around the world, brought on mainly by people moving to unhealthy fatty diets as they grow more affluent. These diets lead to a build up of excess low-density lipoproteins, which are the form of cholesterol that lines and constricts blood vessels and blocks blood flow through them.

The treatment for high cholesterol has largely been statins, which inhibit a critical enzyme tht is required for the production of cholesterol. Researchers have also been trying to develop inhibitors of proteins called PCSK9. These proteins bind to low-density lipoproteins and prevent them from being flushed out of the body.

Now, a team of scientists from Austria and The Netherlands have developed a vaccine to lower cholesterol that could be more effective and reliable than previous treatments.

The vaccine called AT04A, which has been tested on mice so far, produces antibodies that target PCSK9, removing the protein and thereby allowing for low-density lipoproteins to be cleared from blood vessels. While a conventional vaccine, such as those produced for the prevention of infectious diseases, works by producing antibodies that target foreign bacteria and viruses, the AT04A makes the the immune system to attack one of the body’s own proteins.

The tests showed the vaccine lowered total blood cholesterol by 53% in mice that had been fed an unhealthy fatty diet.The build-up of fibrous deposits on the walls of their arteries was reduced by 64%, and biological markers for blood vessel inflammation was cut by up to 28% compared with unvaccinated mice.

The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, raise the possibility cardiac patients undergoing an annual vaccination shot to keep their cholesterol under control.