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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

It’s still in its early stages, but researchers at the University of New Mexico and the National Institutes of Health are in the process of developing a vaccine to prevent high cholesterol that’s shown promise among mice and monkeys.

Millions of people regularly take cholesterol-lowering statins to prevent heart-related illness. But in a new study published in the journal Vaccine suggests there might be an injectable way to prevent bad cholesterol build up in the future.

The vaccine targets a protein called PCSK9 that’s involved the management of cholesterol levels in the blood. By interfering with PCSK9, the researchers are able to lower cholesterol in the blood, and have shown that just one vaccination has significantly cut down on LDL cholesterol (considered the bad type of cholesterol) levels in lab animals.

“One of the most exciting things about this new vaccine is it seems to be much more effective than statins alone,” study author Dr. Bryce Chackerian from the University of New Mexico said in a statement.

The protein PCSK9 is a common target for drug makers to lower cholesterol. Recently, a new class of drugs called PCSK9-inhibitors were approved in the United States. They’re thought to be possible game-changers for cholesterol treatment. Statins can have side effects, which is why researchers have looked for other options, including the vaccine.

More research will be needed to determine if a vaccine for lower cholesterol is a viable option for humans.

Read more: This New FDA-Approved Cholesterol Drug Is a Game Changer


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