Besides lowering cholesterol levels, drugs such as statins or Ezetimibe may one day prove to be effective in providing protection against infectious diseases, including typhoid fever, chlamydia and malaria, researchers have found. The findings give insight into the mechanisms that govern human susceptibility to infectious disease and point to possible avenues to protect against pathogens — like Salmonella or Ebola — that hijack cholesterol to infect host cells. “This is just the first step,” said Dennis C. Ko, Assistant Professor at the Duke University in the US. “Our study provides a blueprint for combining different techniques for understanding why some people are more susceptible to disease than others, and what can be done about it,” Ko added. The study, appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that some people may be more susceptible to the highly contagious disease through a gene variant — VAC14 — which affects cholesterol levels. This mutation was found to raise cholesterol levels which binds Salmonella Typhi, the culprit behind the potentially deadly infection, to a person’s cells, thus increasing the risk of typhoid fever.
According to World Health Organisation estimates, nearly 21 million cases and 222,000 typhoid-related deaths occur annually worldwide. “Discovering the mechanism was important because plenty of people are on cholesterol-lowering drugs, especially statins, for high cholesterol,” Ko said. “We wondered if similar drugs could be given to reduce the risk of Salmonella infection,” Ko noted. Furthermore, other common cholesterol-lowering drug like Ezetimibe were found to protect zebrafish against Salmonella Typhi.
The researchers emphasised the need to try the approach in different model organisms, such as mice, and likely with different pathogens, before considering taking this into the clinic.