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Heart Disease Health Center

A Vaccine for Clogged Arteries?

Protein Protects Mice From Hardening of Arteries
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WebMD Health News

Oct. 1, 2002 -- Eating too much of the wrong thing can lead to hardening of the arteries. Eating just a little of the right thing might prevent it, a mouse study suggests.

Researchers at Israel's Sheba Medical Center fed tiny amounts of an important immune-system protein to mice whose heart arteries were blocked with fatty plaque -- the condition known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This heat shock protein is a substance that increases redness and swelling in infected tissues. One theory says that atherosclerosis involves exactly this kind of inflammation.

By eating small amounts of heat-shock protein, the mice developed tolerance to it. That is, their bodies stopped responding to the protein. The same idea is behind allergy shots, in which a person gets tiny amounts of allergy-causing proteins to reduce allergic responses.

Sure enough, the mice had less fat in their arteries. They also had lower immune responses. The study appears in the Oct. 2 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"In this common model of atherosclerosis there is an involvement of the immune system with heat shock protein," study leader Dror Harats, MD, says in a news release. "When you create the tolerance, you can prevent [atherosclerosis] development."

Harats says the finding might lead to a vaccine capable of preventing arteries from becoming blocked with the fatty plaque of atherosclerosis.

Though much more work is needed to find a safe way to use this technique on humans, Harats says he hopes to be able to start human tests in two years.

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