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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

Statin Drugs May Help Treat MS

Study Shows Lipitor Cuts Risk of Developing New Brain Lesions
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 15, 2010 (Toronto) -- Statin drugs show promise for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), a small, preliminary study suggests.

Statin drugs are best known for their cholesterol-lowering effects. But the drugs "have anti-inflammatory effects on immune cells as well, which is why we figured they could be beneficial in MS," says study leader Scott Zamvil, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune cells mistakenly recognize cells in the brain and spinal cord as foreign and attack them. This leaves behind scars or lesions and disrupts the ability of nerves to transmit information, resulting in disability.

In the new study of people with early forms of multiple sclerosis, the statin drug Lipitor cut the risk of developing new brain lesions by about 50% compared with placebo. New lesions are reliable indicators of future MS attacks, according to the researchers.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Lipitor Cuts Risk of Developing New MS Lesions

The researchers had intended to study more than 150 people who had their first MS attack, but enrollment was stopped due to slow recruitment after 81 patients entered the trial. 

The study failed to meet its primary goal, which was to show that Lipitor could prevent a second attack or the development of three or more new brain lesions as viewed on MRI scans within a year.

That was "because we didn't have sufficient patients to show such an effect," Zamvil tells WebMD. "But on an important imaging measure, we were able to show a significant benefit," he says.

Specifically, the study showed that over a 12-month period, 55% of people given Lipitor had no new brain lesions compared with 28% of the placebo group.

Statins and MS: Where Do We Go From Here?

So should the research proceed to a larger study? Zamvil says that it would be difficult to embark on another study pitting statins against placebo, as several oral medications that attack MS at its roots have been shown to be effective since this study was undertaken.

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