In a new study from the University of Reading, researchers found an antioxidant drug reverses atherosclerosis and could be used to prevent heart attacks and strokes due to clots.
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.
When a type of fat called LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized and builds up to form plaques in the artery walls, inflammation and damage increase which can cause the plaques to rupture and cause blood to clot.
These clots can block vital arteries that allow blood to flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, or to the brain causing a stroke.
Previously, researchers discovered that LDL cholesterol can be oxidized in acidic small ‘bags’ called lysosomes in immune cells within the artery wall.
Now the team has found that the antioxidant drug, cysteamine, has the power to switch off, and even reverse, this damaging process.
Cysteamine works by accumulating in the lysosomes and stops the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. It is already known to be safe in humans where it’s used to treat a rare lysosomal disease called cystinosis.
When the researchers looked at mice with atherosclerosis, those treated with cysteamine had a 32 to 56% reduction in the size of atherosclerotic plaques depending on the part of the aorta—the largest artery in the body—that was examined.
Cysteamine decreased the amount of oxidized fat by 73% and increased the stability of the atherosclerotic areas.
It decreased the proportion of inflammatory white blood cells by 55% and increased the area made up of smooth muscle cells by 85%, ultimately reducing the chance of plaques rupturing and causing a blood clot.
Antioxidant drugs that have previously produced promising results in mice have proven disappointing in clinical trials to treat cardiovascular disease, but the researchers hope that with these promising results, cysteamine will prove a successful treatment in humans.
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The study is published in JAHA: Journal of the American Heart Association. One author of the study is Professor David Leake.
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