"Normally, animals that have it [the enzyme] will store cholesterol in the liver," Rudel said. "When you knock the enzyme out, the animal cannot do that anymore, and the liver just stays very happy and healthy and it doesn't have any cholesterol accumulation."
Cholesterol is important to metabolism, by which organic material is broken down to produce energy to build new cells and tissues and allow us to remain active.
"All cells can make it," Rudel said. "Only the liver can get rid of it. The only organ that degrades it in the body is the liver, so basically, it can be made everywhere, gets into the blood and back to the liver so we can get rid of it."
The research indicates that when the enzyme is removed, the liver can get rid of extra cholesterol instead of allowing it to hang around and eventually latch on to the inside of those vital arteries that carry blood throughout our bodies.
But if the enzyme serves no useful purpose, why do we have it?
"I don't have an answer to that," Rudel said. "The mice look healthier without it. Why don't we get rid of it?"
Maybe, he said, there's a purpose we haven't discovered.
"Nature knows something that we don't, because she put it there, but it looks like we don't need it," he added.
He and his colleagues hope to begin monkey trials soon. And if successful there, move on to human trials.
It remains cutting-edge research at this point, and it is much too early to predict success, but Rudel believes he's on the right track.
"What works in mice often works in humans," he said.