New machine filters bad cholesterol from blood


Sandra Miller likes to take old things, clean them up and make them new again. Right now, doctors are pretty much doing the same thing with her blood.

"It's going to prevent her heart disease from getting worse and perhaps reverse some of the plaque buildup that is already in her heart," said Dr. Amber Sanchez, UC San Diego associate medical director.

While Miller exercises and eats right, she's genetically prone to high LDL levels, the bad cholesterol in our bodies. The ideal level for people at high risk of heart disease is below 70; she's in the 300s.

Now she's one of the first patients at UC San Diego to undergo LDL apheresis. A machine runs Miller's blood through a filter that separates the plasma.

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

Miller's LDL levels drop from 350 to 67 during the three-hour procedure. She will need to do this every two weeks, for life.

"After two weeks her cholesterol is back up in the 200s," said Sanchez.

For Miller, to make her bad cholesterol good, it's worth it.

Sanchez says while it's recommended that patients continue taking any cholesterol-lowering medications while going through aphereris, in cases like Miller's those drugs don't work and the bi-weekly treatment can replace medications.

Doctors say anything that lowers LDL, even for a short time, will help with heart disease. The procedure is FDA-approved, but so far just 60 centers across the country offer it.

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