Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system attacking and damaging the insulating material (myelin) that surrounds nerve cells. It generally progresses gradually, sometimes with alternating periods of remission, good health, and disabling flare ups.
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Jaykayl/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cholesterol-busting statins may have an unexpected benefit for patients with multiple sclerosis, a new study found.
Researchers in the U.K. studied 140 patients diagnosed with the most severe form of the disease, known as secondary progressive MS. They found that high doses of statins -- about double the average amount that patients take to keep their cholesterol levels in check -- reduced the rate of brain shrinkage in these patients.
“I see hundreds of patients with secondary progressive MS in my clinic,” said Dr. Jeremy Chataway, a neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London and lead author of the study, published Tuesday in The Lancet.
“These patients are physically disabled and have no treatment,” Chataway added, calling the study ”an exciting first step.”
Statin treatment led to a 43 percent reduction in the rate of brain shrinkage in the patients in the study, according to Chataway. The hope is that putting the brakes on this shrinkage will slow the progression toward physical disability.
Neurology experts not involved with the research said the new findings are promising -- but preliminary.
“Patients with secondary progressive MS are usually a step away from a cane, or already bed-bound or in a wheelchair,” said Dr. John Cobroy, professor of neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The study is both well-executed and interesting, he said, but added that he feels the results should be further analyzed in advanced trials before doctors rush to give statins to all patients with MS.
While past research has suggested that the anti-inflammatory properties of statins may curb the damage in the brain seen in MS, researchers are still steps away from a full understanding of this relationship. Still, if statins -- a widely used drug with a good safety profile -- prove to have benefits against MS as well, they may be a welcome option against a disease for which treatments are so sparse.
This study “gives us first indications for treating and helping restore what’s potentially lost,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “It’s proof of concept that you can take an existing strategy and repurpose it to target something else.”Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio