JEDDAH: New human trials of a cholesterol-lowering vaccine in Austria may offer hope to people with high cholesterol.

The condition — excess fat in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease — was among the leading causes of death and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in Saudi Arabia in 2015, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Internal medicine specialist Dr. Sarah Mohamed told Arab News the disease is “mostly genetic, hence the term familial hypercholesterolemia.” Poor dietary and lifestyle habits are added risk factors, as are some medications, she said.

The vaccine trials follow successful studies in mice, the BBC reported Tuesday. The vaccine is meant to stop fatty deposits from clogging the arteries. It is being tested by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna on 72 volunteers.

The development of this vaccine is exciting, but since its safety is still being tested it’s still at phase one,” said Mohamed, who works at a public hospital in Jeddah.

Medications need to pass phase-three trials and be tested on a reasonably large number of patients who have the disease to fully demonstrate vaccine efficacy and become commercially available, she added.

The vaccine could offer patients an alternative to daily pills to cut their risk of stroke and heart attacks.

“We look forward to witnessing the successful progress of those trials,” Mohamed said, adding that there are several medications available to combat the disease. “Statins are the most effective, and therefore the most widely used.”