San Diego researchers announced Monday that they may have found the key to developing a vaccine that may prevent heart disease.
The number one killer in America, heart disease, has long been attributed to high blood pressure from too much cholesterol.
But cholesterol has a dangerous sidekick: inflammatory cells produced by the body's immune system, according to the researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Their research concluded that the inflammation aids the buildup of arterial plaque that often leads to heart attacks.
What's more, the researchers found the specific type of cell responsible for the deadly match-up of inflammation and plaque in patients' arteries.
The CD4 T cells attack the artery wall when they sense the plaque build-up, also known as atherosclerosis.
"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, who led the study in mouse models.
Ley was referring to the ability of the immune cells to recognize the antigen-presenting cells as harmful. Previous to his discovery, this reaction often fueled heart attacks. Now, it's the key to fighting them.
The researchers say they can now work on making a vaccine that will stop the reaction. It would make the antigen-presenting cells unrecognizable, halting the inflammation response.
The vaccine would be a "one-two punch" for conquering heart attacks. Doctors would still give patients cholesterol-lowering drugs, but paired with the vaccine, the patient could likely significantly reduce their chances of getting heart disease.
The vaccine would probably take several years to develop but the potential is enormous, Ley said.
"This experiment makes me now believe that it may be possible to build a vaccine for heart disease," he said.