Felix Nettersheim, M.D.

What if we can enhance a heart disease vaccine by blocking regulatory molecules?

Worldwide, almost 18 million people die each year from cardiovascular diseases. We know that a major—but not yet treatable—cause of heart disease is an uncontrolled autoimmune attack against the blood vessels. Current prevention strategies, such as cholesterol- or blood-pressure-lowering drugs, have only partially reduced high cardiovascular mortality. A vaccine that expands specific immune cells that dampen this dangerous autoimmune process could be a game-changer. With my SPARK project, I intend to block certain immune checkpoint molecules genetically and pharmacologically, while vaccinating mice against cholesterol. Using state-of-the-art technologies, I can address whether blocking these checkpoints increases disease-specific T cells and whether the T cells maintain their capacity to limit inflammation and protect from heart disease.

SPARKing Impact: I intend to test a novel strategy to enhance the efficacy of such a vaccine for cardiovascular disease. This work could eventually help bring this promising approach from bench to bedside.