High doses of common cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may help people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), says a new study.
In the early stage clinical trial, a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School assessed the efficacy of the drug, Lipitor in 10 patients with the dry form of AMD. The researchers found that Lipitor cleared away fatty deposits behind the retina, leading to visual improvements.
US lead researcher Professor Joan Miller, chair of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, said, "We found that intensive doses of statins carry the potential for clearing up the lipid debris that can lead to vision impairment in a subset of patients with macular degeneration."
There are two forms of AMD, known as "wet" and "dry". Of the two, the more common "dry" form that accounts for 85% of cases is harder to treat, and lacks effective therapies. Studies have shown little correlation between regular statin use and AMD improvement.
Professor Miller's team suspected a particular sub-group of patients may benefit from higher doses of the drugs than those typically prescribed.
Dr Demetrios Vavvas, from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in the US, who co-led the trial, said, "Not all cases of dry AMD are the same, and our findings suggest that if statins are going to help, they will be most effective when prescribed at high dosages in patients with an accumulation of soft lipid material."
"These data suggest that it may be possible to eventually have a treatment that not only arrests the disease but also reverses its damage and improves the visual acuity in some patients."
A total of 23 patients with dry AMD participated in the study. They were prescribed a high 80-milligram daily dose of atorvastatin, which is marketed under the brand name Lipitor.
Of the group, 10 patients experienced an elimination of the deposits under their retinas and a mild improvement in visual acuity.
Dr Vavvas added, "This is a very accessible... approved drug that we have tremendous experience with."
"Millions of patients take it for high cholesterol and heart disease, and based on our early results, we believe it offers the potential to halt the progression of this disease, but possibly even to restore function in some patients with dry AMD."
The researchers hope that larger trials will show that the drug has the potential to halt the progression or even reverse the condition in some cases.
The study is published in the journal EBioMedicine.