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Statins May Help MS Patients

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs May Slow Multiple Sclerosis

WebMD Health News

Oct. 7, 2002 -- The popular cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may also help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to preliminary testing. A new study suggests statins can have a potent effect on the immune system, which might make them useful in treating a variety of conditions that affect the immune system, such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and organ transplantation.

The study appears in the Oct. 8 issue of Neurology.

Statins are already known to reduce the risk of heart disease and hardening of the arteries thanks to their cholesterol-lowering properties. But researchers say recent studies have shown the drugs might also affect the immune system in a variety of beneficial ways, including reducing inflammation.

Although the exact cause is unknown, MS is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, causing inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. The disease affects about one in 1,000 people in the US, and about two-thirds of the sufferers are women.

For the study, researchers compared the effects of several statins -- including Mevacor and Zocor -- with those of interferon-beta, the current standard drug in MS treatment. They looked at how the statins worked alone or in combination with the interferon therapy by testing blood samples from 74 MS patients and 25 healthy donors.

The laboratory tests found all of the statins slowed the growth of a key blood cell involved in the progression of MS, with Zocor showing the strongest effect.

"Our study shows that the statins modify several molecules of the immune system involved in the disease progression of MS, independent of their use with interferon," says researcher Juan José Archelos, MD, of Karl-Franzens University in Graz, Austria, in a news release.

"The potent anti-inflammatory effects of statins are remarkable, and even more effective when combined with interferon-beta," says Archelos.

Although the researchers say their findings support future clinical trials of statins in MS treatment, they say much more research is needed to fully understand how the drugs affect the immune system. They note that some studies of statins in mice have yielded conflicting results in regard to the drugs' effect on inflammation.

In addition, researchers say there are a large number of statin drugs that might create a wide range of effects in people with MS. -->

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