Someday soon, the key to healthy blood pressure might involve a booster shot.

Earlier today, Japanese researchers unveiled promising, if preliminary, results from the animal trials of an experimental vaccine designed to combat hypertension. In mice, the vaccine was able to lower their blood pressure for up to six months as well as reducing signs of heart and blood vessel damage associated with hypertension.

The study authors created a DNA vaccine able to lower the production of angiotensin II, a peptide hormone long known to increase blood pressure through the constriction of blood vessels and the overpromotion of other hormones involved in maintaining proper blood pressure. They then injected hypertensive mice with the needleless vaccine three times over a six week period, finding encouraging decreases in blood pressure and overall heart health that lasted for as long as six months. As the authors note, their vaccine is a novel take on a tried-and-true approach already utilized in certain hypertension medications; ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors indirectly lower angiotension II by interfering with the enzyme that converts it from its biologically inert precursor.

These inhibitors and other heart medications usually need to be taken everyday however, which has historically led to low treatment adherence -- complications that the researchers are hopeful their therapy can sidestep. "The potential of a vaccine for hypertension offers an innovative treatment that could be very effective for the control of non-compliance which is one of the major problems in the management of hypertensive patients," said study author and Osaka University professor Dr. Hironori Nakagami in a press release. It may also provide an affordable option for poorer patients unable to afford the more expensive class of blood pressure medications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 70 million Americans currently suffer hypertension, a chronic condition that while rarely dangerous on its own is known to raise the likelihood of developing more serious health complications like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. While a vaccine won’t wholeheartedly eliminate the threat of high blood pressure, it might allow us to better bridge the treatment gap that lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can’t fill. As things stand currently, the CDC reports that only about half of hypertension sufferers have their condition under control.

Though the vaccine has many hurdles and clinical trials to get through before we could expect to receive it in our doctor’s office, the researchers are excited about the new avenues their work might open up. "Further research on this DNA vaccine platform, including increasing the longevity of blood pressure reduction, may eventually provide a new therapeutic option to treat hypertensive patients," Nakagami said.

Source: Nakagami H, Koriyama H, Nakagami F, et al. Long-Term Reduction of High Blood Pressure by Angiotensin II DNA Vaccine in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats. Hypertension. 2015