A New Drug for High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol is a massive problem in the United States; nearly 4 in 10 Americans have cholesterol levels that are higher than normal. High cholesterol is also associated with numerous health issues, including heart disease. Fortunately, new research from the University of Alberta might help fend off heart disease among those with this problem.

A Problematic Protein

Publishing their work in the journal Nature Communications, the study authors identified what they believe is the link between cholesterol and heart disease. Specifically, they point the finger at a protein that interferes with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors, preventing them from evicting bad cholesterol from the bloodstream. In turn, excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol can accumulate within the heart’s arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. When the arteries are in such a state, the affected person is at risk of heart attack.

Researchers had long suspected that proteins were disrupting the inner workings of the bloodstream in this manner, but didn’t know the identity of the guilty party. Thanks to this team’s work, the protein has been identified as membrane type 1 matrix metalloproteinase.

A New Target

“We have known for many years that these receptors could be cleaved, but nobody knew which protein was responsible,” stated David Zhang, a study author and an associate professor of pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “There had been several attempts around the world but nobody else was successful.”

Having identified the troublesome protein, the next step is to develop a drug to neutralize the protein, which would theoretically allow the receptors to resume clearing LDL from the bloodstream.

One potential option may be to use this new drug with a class of drugs called statins, which are medications specifically designed to lower cholesterol levels. Some research has found that these drugs could lower adverse cardiac events (such as heart attack) by anywhere from 20 to 40 percent. However, such medications often carry significant side effects, meaning that they cannot be automatically prescribed to those struggling with high cholesterol.

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