(NaturalNews) A new study suggesting that a common virus might play a role in hypertension has some suggesting that a vaccine might be developed against high blood pressure.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School found in laboratory studies that the herpes variant cytomegalovirus (CMV), carried in the body of 60 to 99 percent of people worldwide, increases blood vessel inflammation and causes high blood pressure in mice.
"Some cases of hypertension might be treated or prevented by antiviral therapy or a vaccine against CMV," researcher Clyde Crumpacker said.
In one study, researchers observed elevated levels of renin, an enzyme that causes high blood pressure, in the kidneys of mice and the blood vessels of humans infected with CMV. Infection with the virus also led to elevated levels of inflammation markers in blood vessels.
The study "may suggest a whole new way of looking at high blood pressure and vascular disease," Crumpacker said.
In another study, the researchers infected mice with CMV and found that all of them developed high blood pressure. Half the mice were fed a high-fat diet four weeks before and six weeks after infection, while the others were fed a normal diet. A full 30 percent of mice on the high-fat diet developed hardened arteries in addition to high blood pressure.
"This strongly suggests that the CMV infection and the high cholesterol diet might be working together," Crumpacker said.
A number of companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis and Vical are already at work on a CMV vaccine. While the virus rarely produces symptoms in healthy adults, it can cause harm to people with compromised immune systems and can produce birth defects in infants exposed prenatally.
Drugmaker Roche currently produces an antiviral drug to prevent CMV infection after organ transplants, a time when the immune system is typically weakened.
Nearly all adults age 40 and older have been exposed to the CMV at some point.
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