Multiple sclerosis could be treated with statins, says study
19th March 2014
crestorMultiple sclerosis (MS) decline could be slowed down with the widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs statins, demonstrating both anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects on the nervous system in previous studies, and chosen for this reason in the latest study. Study leader Dr Jeremy Chataway of University College London Hospitals, said: “In the progressive stage of MS the brain shrinks by about 0.6 per cent a year. Our main measure of success was to reduce the rate of brain atrophy.” After the early trial results, published in The Lancet, showed an encouraging effect from statins leading to slow brain shrinkage in people with MS, The University College London (UCL) scientists say larger trials are now able to get underway. MS is a fairly common autoimmune disease that is suffered by around 100,000 people around the UK. It occurs following damage to a protein surrounding the brain and spinal cord (myelin) after a breakdown in the immune system. Nerve signals become disrupted from the brain to the rest of the body leading to vision impairment, muscle stiffness and uncontrollable movement, fatigue and ataxia (balance and coordination problems). Unfortunately, there is no cure at present but certain treatments may help in the early stages of MS, slowing down the progression of the disease and reducing the number of relapses. After about 10 years, it is thought about half of those with relapsing remitting MS then develop advanced secondary progressive MS, where symptoms get worse and there are less or sometimes even no periods of remission. Although no licensed drugs have found to be effective at treating this stage of MS, Dr Jeremy Chataway and his colleagues are optimistic low cost statins could be considered as an option. For the study the researchers assessed 140 people with secondary progressive MS. They randomly assigned a high dose (80mg) of one the most commonly prescribed statins – simvastatin -  to half the group, whilst the rest were simply given a placebo. Everyone was then monitored over a period of two years. MRI scans conducted prior to and after the study period showed an average yearly brain shrinkage of 0.3% for those taking simvastatin, compared to the previously predicted 0.6%. This worked out as a reduction of 43% when factors such as age and gender were taken into account. Despite not being the primary focus of the study, those patients taking statins were also discovered to have small but significant improvements in their disability scores against those that had taken placebo tablets. Dr Chataway added: “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.” Dr Susan Kohlhaas, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, said: “There are no treatments that can stop the condition from worsening in people with progressive MS. Scientists have worked for years to find a potential treatment that could help people, and now, finally, one has been found that might. This is very exciting news. Further, larger clinical trials are now absolutely crucial to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this treatment.”