Could a common vaccine prevent heart attacks and strokes? Sounds far-fetched, but a research project underway at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine associated with Australia’s Monash University is proposing to study whether an existing pneumococcal vaccine can help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events.
The study was initiated after laboratory research suggested that a component in a common pneumococcal vaccine had a chemistry very similar to that found in oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL.
) LDL is commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol.” Antibodies produced by the pneumococcal vaccine appeared to bind to the same sites in arteries that LDL binds to. Does that mean these antibodies may be able to protect arteries against the build up of cholesterol? This study, overseen by Monash University’s Centre for Cardiovascular Research and Education in Therapeutics, aims to find out.
What Are Pneumococcal Vaccines?
Pneumococcal vaccines protect against the pneumococcal bacterial infections that are a leading cause of infant and child mortality across much of the developing world.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control recommend that every child receive four doses of the vaccine before the age of 15 months as part of his or her normal vaccination schedule. In low-income countries across the globe, the World Health Organization is teaming with private philanthropic organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make the pneumococcal vaccine more widely available.
The pioneering vaccine research will be taking place across Australia at research centers in Newcastle, Gosford, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Each center will be studying 1,000 participants, male and female alike, between the ages of 55 and 60 years old.
The participants must have at least two risk factors associated with cardiac disease but must not have had a heart attack or stroke. The risk factors will be high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Participants will be randomized into treatment and control groups. Control group members will be injected with a saline placebo, while treatment group members will be injected with the pneumococcal vaccine.
Researchers will track the health records of participants for four to five years after the vaccination is administered. At the end of that time, the incidence of heart attacks and strokes across the treatment and control groups will be compared.