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Cholesterol removal heart disease hope

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Heart disease-causing cholesterol could be cleared from the blood in a revolutionary new way, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Michigan in the US have found a new genetic target that they believe could be used to help reduce a patient’s cholesterol - possibly taking the place of statins, the drugs traditionally used to reduce fat levels.

The team, led by Professor David Ginsburg, managed to inhibit the action of a gene responsible for transporting a destructive protein known to interfere with the liver’s ability to take away cholesterol from the blood.

Trapping this protein where it couldn’t harm receptors responsible for removing cholesterol preserved the liver cells’ ability to clear plasma cholesterol from the blood, but did not seem to otherwise affect well-being.

While an inactive SEC24A gene did not affect development, plasma cholesterol levels were reduced by as much as nearly half (45%).

That’s because vesicles (fluid or air-filled cavities) from liver cells were not able to recruit and disperse a critical regulator of blood cholesterol levels called proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9.

PCSK9 is a secreted protein that kills off the liver cells’ receptors of low-density lipoprotein - LDL, the so-called “bad cholesterol” - and stops the cells from removing the LDL.

Xiao-Wei Chen of the Ginsburg lab, the first author on the paper, said that hindering SEC24A or PCSK9 may be an alternative to statins and could combine with statins to produce even greater effects, adding: “They might also be effective on patients who are resistant to or intolerant of statins.”

The findings of Prof Ginsburg’s team are published in the latest online journal eLife.


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