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Researchers find PCSK9 inhibitors could treat abdominal aortic aneurysms

The condition is responsible for 2,200 annual deaths in the UK.

UK researchers have discovered that drugs that treat high cholesterol could slow the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).

The study, led by the University of Leicester’s Professor Matthew Bown and partly funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), found that PCSK9 inhibitors could be repurposed as a treatment for people with an AAA.

AAA, responsible for 2,200 deaths in the UK each year, is a swelling in the aorta that carries blood away from the heart and around the body.

After performing a genome-wide association study and analysing the DNA to search for risk-increasing genes in over 39,000 people with an AAA, the researchers identified 141 genetic variants in the development of aneurysms, one of which encoded the PCSK9 protein.

Currently used as a treatment for individuals with high cholesterol, PCSK9 inhibitors stop the breakdown of cholesterol receptors to boost the body’s ability to remove bad cholesterol from the blood.

By simulating the effect of PCSK9 inhibitors in mice with an AAA, the researchers found that the growth of aneurysms slowed.

Additionally, aneurysms grew particularly slowly in mice with an AAA that lacked the PCSK9 protein in comparison to those with the functioning protein.

Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at BHF, said: “Repurposing drugs which have already been shown to be safe and effective, such as PCSK9 inhibitors, can dramatically shorten the time it takes for findings to go from discovery to patient trials.

“While testing in large groups of patients will be needed before these drugs can be recommended, these promising results offer hope to thousands of AAA patients that their long wait for a treatment may soon be over.”

Findings from the study could help guide the search for more treatments for AAA, which currently has no cure.

The research was also funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Veterans Administration Office of Research and Development, Tobacco-Related Disease Research Programs and the National Institutes of Health.