A new study shows infusing heart attack patients with high density lipoprotein may reverse years of heart disease damage.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic injected patients with a laboratory-produced version of HDL, or good cholesterol, which naturally removes fatty buildups from arteries. Thirty-six patients received doses of HDL, and 11 patients who served as a control group received doses of saline.
Researchers say they got the idea for their study after observing a group of people who lived in Limone sul Garde, a town in northern Italy. These Italians had exceptionally low levels of good cholesterol but lived long, healthy lives. Researchers later discovered that these people had a mutation in their HDL gene that caused good cholesterol to break down quickly even though their bodies made plenty of it. Researchers then turned this same strain of HDL into an experimental drug and gave it to heart attack patients.
Results of the study show after just five weekly infusions of HDL, patients saw a 4-percent reduction in the amount of plaque on their artery walls. Patients in the placebo group saw no significant change. Researchers say the 4-percent reduction actually represents years of plaque buildup. Current drugs that are used to treat heart disease -- called statins -- take years to produce more modest results.
Authors of the study say the concept is like liquid Drano for the coronary arteries. They say larger studies are needed to determine if this treatment will help prevent heart disease deaths.