Vaccine for heart disease? It’s a possibility

Most people probably know that heart disease remains the nation’s No. 1 killer. But what many may be surprised to learn is that cholesterol has a major accomplice in causing dangerous arterial plaque buildup that can trigger a heart attack. The culprit? Inflammatory cells produced by the immune system…

Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology have identified the specific type of immune cells (CD4 T cells) that orchestrate the inflammatory attack on the artery wall. Further, the researchers discovered that these immune cells behave as if they have previously seen the antigen that causes them to launch the attack. “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,” said Klaus Ley, M.D., a renowned expert in vascular immunology, who led the study in mouse models. “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 said he believes the antigen involved is actually a normal protein that the body mistakes as being foreign and therefore launches an immune attack resulting in inflammation in the arteries. “Essentially, we’re saying that there appears to be a strong autoimmune component in heart disease,” he said, explaining that autoimmune diseases result from the body’s mistaken attack on normal cells. “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…”

Dr. Ley cautions that creating a vaccine is a complex process that could take years to develop. However it offers exciting potential. “If successful, a tolerogenic vaccine could stop the inflammation component of heart disease,” he said. “This could probably be used in conjunction with the statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) that have already taken a significant chunk out of the numbers of people with heart disease. Together, they could deliver a nice one-two punch that could be important in further reducing heart disease.”

No – this does not mean you should return to eating lousy fast food or give up on exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle.

I offer this post as a ray of hope for the future, an addition to the science that can extend our lifespan, give us all more time to spend on this planet enjoying life and learning. OK?

Immune system thwarted to allow pregnancy.

The concept of pregnancy makes no sense — at least not from an immunological point of view. After all, a fetus, carrying half of its father’s genome, is biologically distinct from its mother. The fetus is thus made of cells and tissues that are very much not “self” — and not-self is precisely what the immune system is meant to search out and destroy.

Women’s bodies manage to ignore this contradiction in the vast majority of cases, making pregnancy possible. Similarly, scientists have generally paid little attention to this phenomenon — called “pregnancy tolerance” — and its biological details.

Now, a pair of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have shown that females actively produce a particular type of immune cell in response to specific fetal antigens — immune-stimulating proteins — and that this response allows pregnancy to continue without the fetus being rejected by the mother’s body…

Scientists had long been “hinting around at the idea that the mother’s immune system makes tolerance possible…”What they didn’t have were the details of this tolerance — or proof that it was immune-related.

Now they do…

RTFA. Or spend the money and read the original paper at PNAS.

Plastic Fantastic antibody – passes animal tests

Scientists are reporting the first evidence that a plastic antibody – an artificial version of the proteins produced by the body’s immune system to recognize and fight infections and foreign substances – works in the bloodstream of a living animal. The discovery, they suggest in a report…is an advance toward medical use of simple plastic particles custom tailored to fight an array of troublesome “antigens.” Those antigens include everything from disease-causing viruses and bacteria to the troublesome proteins that cause allergic reactions to plant pollen, house dust, certain foods, poison ivy, bee stings and other substances.

In the report, Kenneth Shea, Yu Hosino, and colleagues refer to previous research in which they developed a method for making plastic nanoparticles, barely 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, that mimic natural antibodies in their ability to latch onto an antigen. That antigen was melittin, the main toxin in bee venom. They make the antibody with molecular imprinting, a process similar to leaving a footprint in wet concrete. The scientists mixed melittin with small molecules called monomers, and then started a chemical reaction that links those building blocks into long chains, and makes them solidify. When the plastic dots hardened, the researchers leached the poison out. That left the nanoparticles with tiny toxin-shaped craters.

Their new research, together with Naoto Oku’s group of the University Shizuoka Japan, established that the plastic melittin antibodies worked like natural antibodies. The scientists gave lab mice lethal injections of melittin, which breaks open and kills cells. Animals that then immediately received an injection of the melittin-targeting plastic antibody showed a significantly higher survival rate than those that did not receive the nanoparticles. Such nanoparticles could be fabricated for a variety of targets, Shea says. “This opens the door to serious consideration for these nanoparticles in all applications where antibodies are used,” he adds.

Wow!

If you’re up for it, read the original report. The link is just above.