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A Vaccine Worth Taking

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Like fatty foods? Worry about cholesterol? No problem, if researchers at Avant Immunotherapeutics Inc. in Needham, Massachusetts, have their way with a vaccine designed to stop the body from converting good cholesterol (HDL) into bad (LDL).

The body normally changes HDL to LDL, so Avant researchers decided that derailing that conversion would head off cholesterol problems at the pass. Using the human immune system as an ally, scientists attached a tetanus toxin to a protein necessary for HDL's transformation to LDL, and injected it into rabbits fed a high-fat diet. The immune system's assault on the targeted protein blocked the conversion. Levels of good cholesterol skyrocketed; levels of bad dropped.

The worry is that the protein might be essential to other important functions in the body. But a group of Japanese with a genetic mutation that blocks cholesterol conversion, mimicking the vaccine's effect, live well into their eighties with healthy hearts. Human trials begin this summer.

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