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Statins Could Help Treat Multiple Sclerosis

Update Date: Mar 20, 2014 10:02 AM EDT

According to new results from an early trial, statins might be able to do more than just lower people's cholesterol levels. The researchers from the University College London (UCL) reported that statins could be effective in treating people with advanced multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is a disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, the spinal cord and optic nerves and is often characterized by a loss of motor control, balance and vision. MS is currently not curable and like many other diseases, worsens with time. For this study, the research team headed by Dr. Jeremy Chataway focused on finding new treatments for patients with advanced MS.

"I see hundreds of patients with secondary progressive MS in my clinic," said Dr. Chataway reported by ABC News. "These patients are physically disabled and have no treatment.. [This is] an exciting first step."

In the study, the research team recruited 140 patients with secondary progressive MS. The participants were randomly assigned into one of two groups, which were a statin group that took 80mg of simvastatin or a control group that took a placebo pill. The patients took the pills for two years.

Patients in the statin group were able to tolerate the drug. These patients also had brain shrinkage that was 43 percent slower than people taking the placebo drug. The researchers reasoned that since statins have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, these drugs might be protecting the nerve cells from being damaged by the disease, slowing down the progression of MS.

"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 three disability-driven trials," Dr. Chataway said reported by BBC News.

Dr. Jacqueline Palace, a consultant neurologist with Oxford University Hospitals, added according to WebMD, "This effect is provisional and requires a larger phase 3 study, but holds promise for all types of MS Because it is a repurposed drug and already has a good safety profile and is cheap, it could become available fairly quickly if further studies confirm the suggested effect."

The study was published in The Lancet.

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