May 23 (UPI) -- A new treatment might be able to remove "bad cholesterol" from the blood in a matter of hours, a recent study says.
Within two to three hours, a procedure known as LDL apheresis drove down the LDL cholesterol levels of heart attack patients by 50 to 80 percent, according to a study presented this week at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions 2019 Scientific Sessions in Las Vegas. The study was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"The concept was to bring the bad cholesterol down much more quickly and efficiently immediately after a heart attack," Subhash Banerjee, chief of cardiology at the VA North Texas Health Care System and study lead author, told UPI.
Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, also referred to as "bad cholesterol," can build up plaque in arteries, creating a high risk for repeat heart attacks, strokes or other cardiac episodes.
About 1 in 4 men and 1 in 3 women will die a year after having a heart attack, usually from cardiac arrest or another heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.
Traditionally, doctors prescribe statins to treat patients with cardiovascular risk, but taking too many can come with side effects.
Banerjee thought the procedure could help reduce the over-reliance on statins and the bad health risk associated with bad cholesterol.
He conducted his research on 160 patients at four Veterans Affairs hospitals who had just undergone percutaneous coronary intervention surgery to treat heart attacks. PCI uses a stent to blood flow to a narrowed heart.
"Heart attack patients were the first target because they were in immediate need to affect their LDL cholesterol more acutely," Banerjee said.
Half of the patients received the LDL apheresis procedure and statins, while the other half just took statins.
After 90 days, those LDL apheresis patients saw the plaque reduced by 5.5 percent. By comparison, LDL levels in the statins-only half increased by 2.6 percent. During the procedure, only bad cholesterol was removed.
According to Banerjee, three factors determine how fast a patient's LDL will drop: the initially level in their blood, how fast the patient's blood is drawn and the time it takes to filter the blood. A patient with normal blood pressure would likely have his or her blood drawn faster than someone with slightly lower blood pressure.
One of the study's drawbacks is that 99 percent of its patients were men. During follow-up research, Banerjee would like to include more women inside and outside of the VA network to get a better overall effect of the LDL apheresis procedure.
Banerjee also wants to use the LDL apheresis procedure along with statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs to on people with high bad cholesterol levels before they have heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.
In the meantime, the VA has already funded a one-year follow-up study for the patients already treated with the LDL apheresis, Banerjee said.
"We do need to follow these patients longer and maybe do larger studies to show if this early effect at 90 days of the regression of plaque leads to a clinical benefit," Banerjee said. " That would be transformational."