Statins, which are the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, are used to treat elevated levels of cholesterol and heart disease.
A team of researchers, led by Elaine Tuomanen, at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, has now identified a potential new use for statins by studying a mouse model of sickle cell disease, the most common genetic disorder in the world.
Children with sickle cell disease have a much greater risk of developing an invasive infection with pneumococcal bacteria, something that is often lethal, that those that do not have the disease. In the study, when sickle cell-disease mice were treated with a statin before being infected with pneumococcal bacteria they lived for much longer than did infected, untreated sickle cell-disease mice. Further analysis identified two mechanisms underlying the protective effect of statins in this context: they reduced bacterial invasion into the blood system and they prevented cells being killed by the bacterial toxins. These data therefore suggest that prophylactic treatment with statins might reduce the susceptibility of children with sickle cell disease to invasive pneumococcal infection.