Although the following results have only been documented in animal models of the disease, so far, the researchers hope that the findings could one day revolutionize treatment of multiple sclerosis, in humans. The results of this promising study can be found in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Multiple Sclerosis results from an immune system disorder in which the immune cells attack the myelin sheath (an insulation layer) present in nerve fibers around the spinal cord and brain. Treatment of the disease is based on the use of drugs (Copaxone) that selectively inhibits the destruction of myelin. Copaxone treatment however is effective only in about 30- 35% of the cases.
The researchers, inspired by results of their first study, set out to explore the effectiveness of the new drug combination, Copaxone- Atorvastatin. Addition of high doses of the cholesterol-lowering drug was found to produce a drastic reduction in the inflammation of the central nervous system and elimination of paralysis in animal models designed to mimic human models of MS.
Although Lipitor produces the same effect as Copaxone (through a different mechanism), the clinical and immunological effect may be more pronounced when the drug combination is used. Low doses of Copaxone or Lipitor, on the other hand did not have any beneficial effect with respect to disease reversal.
The researchers have further warned that the effect may not apply to all statin drugs as owing to difference in the ability of the cholesterol lowering drugs to modulate the function of the immune system.
'What we have shown now is that we have data in an animal model, that when this statin is used in combination with Copaxone, it may augment the activity of Copaxone. That is provocative data supporting human testing of this combination,' said Dr. Scott Zamvil, one of the researchers.
'We don't know if it is effective or not at this stage. Even though they [statins] are relatively safe, we are speaking of higher doses. There is a lot of interest in statins and they are generally well tolerated, but we are cautioning people not to rely on statins for multiple sclerosis treatment', cautioned Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a leading neurologist, Cleveland Clinic.