A low-cost vaccine safely lowered levels of bad cholesterol in animal studies — raising the possibility for an easier and more accessible way to control cholesterol in humans, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014.

The vaccine targets PCSK9, an enzyme that degrades a receptor carrying low density lipoprotein (LDL, bad cholesterol) cholesterol. As receptor levels decrease, more LDL cholesterol circulates in the bloodstream. So a vaccine that inhibits the action of PCSK9 would lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood and its related heart disease risk.

Researchers used a virus-like-particle vaccine, a non-infectious, safe method to create a strong immune response — in this case against the part of PCSK9 that attaches to the LDL cholesterol receptor. Researchers found:

  • In 20 mice, the vaccine reduced total cholesterol by more than 30 percent.
  • In three rhesus monkeys, vaccination lowered total cholesterol 14.2 percent and LDL cholesterol 28.4 percent by six weeks compared to controls vaccinated with VLPs not conjugated to a peptide.
  • No adverse effects occurred in either species.