Technology used in development of Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could prevent fatal heart attacks

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The same technology used to help Pfizer and Moderna develop their COVID-19 vaccines could prevent fatal heart attacks, according to doctors at the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research.

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use bioengineered ribonucleic acid to trick people’s bodies into fighting off the virus. Researchers at the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research say they have now learned to use that same technology to prevent the production of a protein linked to fatal heart attacks.

Lipoprotein(a), also known as Lp(a), is referred to by doctors as the evil twin of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), commonly known as bad cholesterol. Lp(a) has an extra protein coil that burrows into the wall of arteries, causing blood clots and inflammation. This raises the chances of developing cardiovascular disease and suffering a deadly heart attack or stroke.

Dr. Michal Koren is both a cardiologist and the director of research at the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research. His research in bioengineered ribonucleic acid helped Pfizer and Moderna develop their COVID-19 vaccines. He says the same technology appears to work against Lp(a).

“When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines, we‘re using RNA messaging to enhance the signal to expose the immune system to the spike protein. When we deal with cholesterol issues, we’re using RNA technology to block messages, so our bodies don’t produce that bad chemical,” Koren said.

Koren says people who have high levels of Lp(a) may not know they have it because it’s not routinely tested. People who have suffered heart attacks or stroke in their 30s or 40s are typically found to have higher levels of Lp(a). Super high levels of Lp(a) combined with other cholesterol levels have been found in patients much younger. Koren says this protein is typically hereditary.

“Half of the family members of an index case may also have this problem, so that’s why it’s important to understand the genetic relationships of people within a family, particularly if someone has had a heart attack or stroke at a young age,” Koren said.

The RNA treatment that is currently being researched involves an injection much like the COVID-19 vaccine. If the treatment is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, people with high levels of Lp(a) will no longer have to undergo plasmapheresis, a process that filters the blood much like a dialysis machine that filters the kidneys.

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