New machine offers temporary solution to high cholesterol

Millions of Americans have cholesterol levels high enough to put them at risk for heart attack or stroke.

Some 34-million people have high cholesterol, and for many, no matter what they do that number does not come down.

A new machine has been introduced to help lower cholesterol levels, even if only temporarily.

Sandra Miller has high L.D.L levels, and right now doctors are doing whatever they can to help clean up her blood. Doctor Amber Sanchez, Associate Medical Director at U.C. San Diego says, “It’s going to prevent her heart disease from getting worse, and perhaps reverse some of the plaque buildup that’s already in her heart.”

While Miller exercises and eats right, she is genetically prone to high L.D.L levels, the type of bad cholesterol that builds up in our bodies. The ideal level for people at high-risk for Heart Disease is below 70. Miller’s L.D.L levels are in the 300s.

She is now one of the first patients at U.C San Diego to undergo a process called L.D.L Apheresis. The machine runs Sandra’s blood through a filter that separates out the plasma.

According to Dr. Sanchez, “The plasma portion is then run through a special filter that just absorbs bad cholesterol, returns all the good cholesterol back to the patient."

During the three-hour procedure Sandra’s L.D.L levels dropped from 350 to 67. To avoid her cholesterol rising back up into the 200 or 300 level Sandra will need to undergo this procedure every two weeks for life.

Dr. Sanchez says that while it is recommend that patients continue taking cholesterol-lowering medications while going through Apheresis, in cases like Sandra’s when those medications do not seem to work, the bi-weekly treatment can substitute in as a replacement.

The procedure is F.D.A approved, but so far, there are only 60 centers across the country that offer it to patients.

REPORT: MB # 3537

BACKGROUND: Cholesterol is a substance created and used by the human body to keep them healthy. There is 'good' cholesterol and 'bad' cholesterol, and too much of the bad cholesterol can increase a person's risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Cholesterol comes from the human body with the liver and other cells making around 75 percent of blood cholesterol, and the remaining 25 percent of cholesterol comes from food and is only found in animal products. The amount of cholesterol some people's bodies make is affected by genetics, so family health history may be a good source to understand why someone's cholesterol is at certain levels despite their lifestyle choices. (Source: American Heart Association)
TYPES: Often times the different types of cholesterol are simply referred to as 'good' cholesterol and 'bad' cholesterol. Below are descriptions and explanations of the two types of cholesterol:
* HDL (aka 'good' cholesterol) - HDL is considered the good cholesterol because it helps keep the 'bad' cholesterol from getting lodged into the artery walls, and a healthy HDL level may also prevent against heart attack or stroke. You can increase HDL levels with regular physical activity and by eating a balanced nutritious diet.
* LDL (aka 'bad' cholesterol) - LDL is considered the bad cholesterol because when there is too much of it circulating in the blood it can clog arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol can raise a person's LDL levels, but LDL cholesterol is also produced by the body and inherited genes can make some people produce too much. (Source: American Heart Association)
TREATMENT: The first line of treatment for high cholesterol levels, especially high LDL levels, is lifestyle changes such as regularly exercising and limiting the amount of trans and saturated fats a person eats. However, some people will continue to struggle with high cholesterol even after making these lifestyle changes. For these people they may need to take cholesterol medications such as statins, which block a substance the liver needs to make cholesterol, cholesterol absorption inhibitors which limit the absorption of dietary cholesterol, and bile-acid-binding resins, which prompt the liver to use excess cholesterol to make more bile acids. (Source: Mayo Clinic)
LDL APHERESIS: LDL apheresis is a treatment for people with high LDL cholesterol levels who have been unable to lower their cholesterol through diet changes and exercise. The LDL apheresis procedure is similar to kidney dialysis in that the patient's blood is continually removed and run through a machine that separates plasma. While the blood is returned to the patient through a different vein, the plasma is run through another part of the machine that removes the LDL. The procedure takes about 2 to 3 hours and must be repeated every 2 to 3 weeks. (Source:

Bottom of Form

Amber Sanchez, MD
The UCSD Apheresis Unit number: (619)543-5977

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Andrew McIntosh at

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WNDU - Channel 16 54516 State Road 933 South Bend, IN 46637 Front Desk: 574-284-3000 Newsroom: 574-284-3016 Email:
Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 177313641 -
Gray Television, Inc.