MAY 01, 2007

Statins May Boost Survival in Lung Disease Patients

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes bronchitis and emphysema, may find a chance for greater survival rates with the use of statins. Researchers from Akershus University Hospital in Lorenskog, Norway, have found that statins can reduce the death rate in patients with COPD whose condition has worsened.

Researchers tested the effect of statins on COPD patients because recent studies showed the drugs to be effective at reducing death rates among heart disease patients. They reasoned that patients with COPD had a subclinical form of ischemic heart disease, and therefore statins would be beneficial.

They monitored the impact of statins on 845 patients with COPD whose symptoms had worsened over a 3-year period after they were released from the hospital. The researchers found that the death rate was 43% lower in those patients taking statins than in those who did not.

Those patients who used statins as well as inhaled corticosteroids to treat their COPD symptoms showed even greater survival rates than those who took either medication alone. The findings were reported in the February 2007 issue of the European Respiratory Journal

Women Who Lower Cholesterol Lower Stroke Risk

New research from Harvard University (Boston, Mass) shows that women who lower their cholesterol levels also improve their chances of avoiding a stroke. Even otherwise healthy women with no history of heart disease or stroke are still at a higher risk for a stroke if they have high cholesterol than women with lower cholesterol levels?more than 2 times. The findings were published in the February 20, 2007, issue of Neurology.

Tobias Kurth, MD, the study's lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, stated that "some links between stroke and cholesterol have been reported in men and in populations at high risk for or with high cardiovascular events. The findings here for women are clearer, though, and show that even in apparently healthy women there's a risk."

The study looked at more than 27,000 women from the United States and Puerto Rico who were taking part in the Women's Health Study. The women's cholesterol levels were measured at study start and monitored for an average of 11 years. During this time, 9 of every 10,000 women had a stroke each year. Researchers found that having a higher total cholesterol level correlated to a 2.3-fold increase in stroke risk.

New Drug Battles Rare Condition

A small study by University of Pennsylvania investigators offers a glimmer of hope to those who have inherited a rare condition that results in lethal cholesterol accumulations in their livers. The condition is known as homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia. Patients present with markedly elevated cholesterol levels that respond poorly to regular drug therapies, and they run a very high risk of premature cardiovascular disease.

An experimental drug, BMS-201038, was tested on 6 patients with the inherited condition, which raises their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels to between 400 and 600 mg/dL, putting them at risk for heart attacks in their teens or early 20s. The drug was shown to lower the LDL levels in these patients by as much as 51%.

The drug works by blockading fats in the liver. Adverse effects include accumulation of hepatic fat, which can cause inflammation, scarring, and cirrhosis. The findings were reported in the January 11, 2007, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Research Shows Benefit of Higher HDL Levels

A study released in February 2007 emphasizes the importance of raising levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the fight against hypercholesterolemia. Although many drugs tout their ability to lower the "bad"cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), not much attention has been given to the benefits of raising HDL. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio have "learned that pushing up HDL confers a substantial proportion of the benefit."Their findings were published in the February 7, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Evidence of the importance of raising HDL levels came from the analysis of about 1500 patients taking part in 4 studies of LDL-lowering statin medications. The research showed that the clogged arteries of patients began to clear significantly when the statins not only lowered their levels of LDL, but raised their HDL levels by up to 7.5%. The researchers said this is the first study to show that part of the benefit of statins is their power to raise HDL levels. The challenge now lies in finding a safe way to raise HDL levels even more.