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Duncan Dymond, Bart's Hospital London
"Glimpse of something exciting"
 real 28k

Friday, 11 February, 2000, 09:56 GMT
First steps to heart disease 'jab'

arm being injected ... but treatment for humans could be a decade away

French scientists claim to have developed a gene therapy "cure" for heart disease.

Researchers at Rhone-Poulenc Rorer and the Pasteur Institute in Paris dramatically reduced build-ups of fatty plaques in the arteries of mice, using gene therapy.

The researchers believe that their work could eventually lead to the development of a heart disease "jab".

These injections would eventually be used to protect people at risk from heart disease.

Researchers concentrated on apolipoprotein E, a key protein in transporting and eliminating cholesterol from the body.

'Very exciting'

A gene for the human version of apolipoprotein E (ApoE) was injected into a strain of mice specially bred to have very high cholesterol levels.

ApoE protein sits on the surface of cholesterol and triglyceride fat particles and binds them to the liver, which then expels them from the body.

Professor Sir Charles George, medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: "This research is very exciting - it suggests that ApoE may have a profound effect in lowering blood cholesterol levels and in possibly reversing atherosclerosis.

"However, this research only demonstrated the effect in mice so the application to humans is still unclear.

"The British Heart Foundation is funding several studies researching the role of ApoE - but even if research is positive, we predict that it could be at least 10 years before the use of ApoE is recommended for treatment in humans."

One group of mice was given the ApoE gene therapy and the other was not.

The scientists found that the treatment produced significant reductions in levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ("bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides - building blocks of fat.

But levels of "good" cholesterol - high-density lipoprotein (HDL) - rose sharply.

After 200 days of therapy, plaques in the gene-injected mice had almost disappeared.

Dr Nicholas Duverger led the research, which has been published in American Heart Association Journal, Arterioscelrosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

He said: "There were tremendous differences in the number of fatty deposits between out treated and untreated animals, and we can say there were almost zero of the fatty in the blood vessels of the gene therapy group.

"Our first thought was to see if we could stop plaque development. But in fact, we observed complete regression of the legions."

He added: "It has never been demonstrated that we could completely remove plaque in an animal or human just by altering the lipoproteincontents of the blood by a gene."

He said that eventually, people with high cholesterol might be able to be injected every couple of years to protect them from heart disease.

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the UK, killing 140,000 people every year. Strokes kill an additional 65,000.

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