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Cholesterol drug could aid multiple sclerosis

Wednesday March 19th, 2014

A drug designed to lower cholesterol levels may help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, researchers reveal today.

Patients taking the drugs enjoyed a 43% reduction in the progress of the disease, researchers found.

They say the findings are "quite a surprise."

Statins have been found to have a wide range of unexpected benefits including reducing inflammation and protecting the nervous system.

Dr Jeremy Chataway of University College London, UK, and his team looked at the use of statins for progressive MS. This class of drug has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects on the nervous system.

They recruited 140 adults with secondary progressive MS and gave them either 80mg of the statin simvastatin, or placebo, daily for two years. Participants underwent MRI brain scans before and after treatment. The scans showed a reduction in the average atrophy (deterioration) rate to 0.3% a year with simvastatin. This is a 43% reduction compared with placebo.

Small but significant improvements were also seen in disability, as assessed by both a doctor and the patient. The drug "was generally well tolerated and serious adverse events were similar between the two groups", report the team in today's (19 March) issue of The Lancet.

Dr Chataway said: "In the progressive stage of MS the brain shrinks by about 0.6% a year. Our main measure of success was to reduce the rate of brain atrophy. Caution should be taken regarding over-interpretation of our brain imaging findings, because these might not necessarily translate into clinical benefit. However, our promising results warrant further investigation in larger phase 3 disability-driven trials."

Fellow researcher Dr Richard Nicholas, of Imperial College, London, said: “Discovering that statins can help slow that deterioration is quite a surprise. This is a promising finding, particularly as statins are already cheap and widely used."

Chataway, J. et al. Effect of high-dose simvastatin on brain atrophy and disability in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS-STAT): a randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 2 trial. The Lancet 19 March 2014 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62242-4 [abstract]

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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