Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States among men and women. An important risk factor of heart disease is high blood pressure. Most recently cholesterol has been linked to trigger plaque buildup that can lead to heart attacks.

There may soon be relief as researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology believe that it will soon be possible to create a vaccine that can combat heart disease.

By identifying the CD4 T-cells, which orchestrate the inflammatory attacks on the artery wall, Dr. Klaus Ley, believes that the chance of creating a tolerogenic vaccine that will function by inducing tolerance in the body to halt any inflammatory attack may soon be conceivable.

Dr. Ley believes the antigen is a normal protein that the body detects as a foreign source, and consequently launching an immune system 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.

Dr. Ley does warns creating a vaccine is a challenging and difficult process that may take several years to develop, but it will offer beneficial rewards.

"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." 

Thus far Dr. Ley's study included observing a live cell technique to trace the immune cells in normal and artherosclerotic mouse aortas. In the study a mouse that has atherosclerosis also has a large amount of antigen-experienced T-cells that has certain types of epitope, the part of the antigen that is recognized by the immune system, pieces that are perceived as foreign sources. In turn the T antigen-presenting cells respond by making cytokines and then launching an attack.

According to Dr. Ley the attacks is what causes the inflammation among the vessels in the wall persistent. The inflammation cells join the fat and cholesterol form artery-clogging plaque that eventually blocks the blood flow and triggers a heart attack.

"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," he concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.