The Lancet Journal has published early trial results showing statins (cholesterol-lowering pills) could slow brain shrinkage in multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers.
Large trials will now commence to confirm whether statins really can slow the progression of the disease, and help to ease symptoms in later, more advanced stages.
MS is a debilitating disease that affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord – causing problems with muscle movement, balance, speech and vision. There is currently no cure, although treatments are available to help in the early stages.
Statins are to date the only licensed drugs that have shown a convincing impact on secondary progressive MS – the more advanced stage of the disease that half of sufferers will reach after around 10 years.
It was at The University College London (UCL) that the trials were conducted, and it is the phase two trial that is published in the Lancet. Dr Jeremy Chataway and his fellow researchers randomly picked 140 people with secondary progressive MS to receive either 80mg of a statin (simvastatin) or a placebo for two years.
Compared with the placebo, the high, daily dose of simvastatin slowed brain shrinkage by 43% over two years. This is thought to be the result of anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties in the statin that can guard the nerves from damage.
Despite the promising results, Dr Chataway stresses that further investigation in larger phase three disability-driven trials are needed to confirm the clinical benefit of statins for MS. The early trial does however represent an important starting point in the quest for treatment of advanced stages of the disease.
Speaking about the UCL trial, 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.”