Researchers say a high dose of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug can reverse the build-up of plaque in coronary arteries.
Such a build up can lead to a heart attack or stroke, and the researchers say this is the first time statins have been shown to have such an effect.
They say the changes in cholesterol levels seen in the study were the largest ever seen in a major trial of statin drugs.
A study of more than 500 patients found that after two years of treatment with a high dose of the cholesterol-lowering statin drug, Crestor, plaque volume was reduced by 7 to 9 percent.
The drug was also found to lower levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol by more than 53 percent to 60.8 and raised levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol by nearly 15 percent to an average of 49.
Although Crestor is considered to be one of the most powerful statin drugs, concerns about the potential side effects such as muscle damage and kidney damage, especially among Asians,have somewhat tarnished it's reputation.
Just last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration dismissed a petition by the consumer group Public Citizen to have Crestor banned.
The changes in cholesterol levels seen in the study were the largest ever seen in a major trial of statin drugs, say the researchers.
According to Dr. Steve Nissen, interim director of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and the study's lead author, "the results were shockingly positive".
The trial does however leave unanswered the question of whether less plaque means fewer heart attacks and strokes; Nissen says the study does indicate very low LDL levels along with raised HDL, can partially reverse heart disease.
Apparently the patients in the trial had not been treated previously with statins.
Other statin drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor and Vytorin, might also lead to similar plaque regression, says Nissen.
Atherosclerosis results when a build-up of cholesterol, inflammatory cells and fibrous tissue form areas in the artery wall called plaques.
If these plaques rupture, they can block blood flow to critical organs, such as the heart or brain, and can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Nissen said he doubted that a statin drug could reduce plaque by much more than the levels seen in the Crestor trial, which used the highest approved dose for the drug.
But some experts are cautious about the findings and say more study is needed.
Many regard lifestyle changes, such as eating a better diet, and exercising regularly as the key to managing cardiovascular disease.
Crestor is produced by drug company AstraZeneca who sponsored the trial.
The results were presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta.
The study will be published in the April edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.