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New Study Explains How Flu Vaccines Prevent Heart Attacks

Researchers see possibility of vaccine for heart disease

Flu vaccines are known to have a protective effect against heart disease, reducing the risk of a heart attack. For the first time, research published in the journal Vaccine has identified the molecular mechanism that underpins this phenomenon. The scientists behind the study say it could be harnessed to prevent heart disease directly.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. People can reduce their risk by eating healthily, by exercising, and by stopping smoking. However, to date there is no vaccine against heart disease.

Previous clinical findings have indicated that people who receive the seasonal flu vaccine also benefit from its protective effect against heart disease; the risk of having a heart attack in the year following vaccination is 50% lower than in people who did not receive a vaccination. Until the new report, the exact mechanism underlying this protective effect remained unknown.

The new study shows that the flu vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, which switch on certain processes in cells. These processes lead to the production of molecules that protect the heart. The researchers say that, based on the results, it may be possible to develop a new vaccine against heart disease.

“Even though the protective effect of the flu vaccine against heart disease has been known for some time, there is very little research out there looking at what causes it. Our proposed mechanism could potentially be harnessed in a vaccine against heart disease, and we plan to investigate this further,” said lead author Dr. Veljko Veljkovic of the Institute Vinca in Belgrade.

The researchers identified a protein called the bradykinin 2 receptor (BKB2R), which is involved in cellular processes that protect the heart. Some of the antibodies the body produces after a flu vaccination switch this protein on, thereby protecting against heart disease. The researchers analyzed 14 flu viruses used in vaccines and identified four that could be investigated for use in potential heart disease vaccines.

“The rate of administering flu vaccinations is disappointingly low, even in developed countries,” Veljkovic added. “We hope that our results will encourage more people to get vaccinated before the flu season starts.”

Sources: Elsevier; October 21, 2014; and Vaccine; July 19, 2014.

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