A heart disease vaccine is very likely in the future, say researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LIAI) in a new article published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Until recently, the role of the immune system in contributing to the buildup of dangerous arterial plaque that can trigger a heart attack was poorly understood. This new study by researchers at LIAI, however, discovered that CD4T cells, which are a specific type of immune cell, are significantly involved in inflammatory attacks on the artery walls, behaving as if the CD4T cells have previously seen the antigen that causes the attack, similar to the way in which the immune system responds in the case of autoimmune disorders.
This new understanding of the role of the immune system in heart disease could lead to the development of a heart disease vaccine.
As Dr. Klaus Ley, the lead researcher of the study and a renowned expert in vascular immunology, comments on Medical News Today:
“The thing that excites me most about this finding is that these immune cells appear to have ‘memory’ of the molecule brought forth by the antigen-presenting cells. Immune memory is the underlying basis of successful vaccines. This means that conceptually it becomes possible to consider the development of a vaccine for heart disease.”
Dr. Ley further explains about the potential for a heart disease vaccine:
“Essentially, we’re saying that there appears to be a strong autoimmune component in heart disease. Consequently, we could explore creating a ‘tolerogenic’ vaccine, such as those now being explored in diabetes, which could induce tolerance by the body of this self-protein to stop the inflammatory attack.”
In other words, the immune system mistakenly recognizes a normal protein as a foreign material. The immune system then attacks the protein, which results in inflammation in the arteries. That is, the body behaves similarly to other autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. A heart disease vaccine could prevent the immune system from erroneously attacking the protein and thus causing arterial inflammation.
As Dr. Ley concludes:
“It wasn’t previously known that antigen-experienced T cells existed in the vessel wall. This experiment makes me now believe that it may be possible to build a vaccine for heart disease.”
However, Dr. Ley also cautions that creating a heart disease vaccine would most likely require years of research and testing.
(By Joseph R Schmitt () [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)