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Statins May Stave Off Septic Lung Damage Says New Research Study

May 2, 2011

New research published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that treatment with the cholesterol drug simvastatin significantly reduces lung damage in severe abdominal sepsis

Statins may be best known for their ability to reduce cholesterol, but a research report appearing in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology (http://www.jleukbio.org) shows that these same drugs could also play a crucial role in the reduction of lung damage resulting from severe abdominal sepsis and infection.

“We hope that this study will not only provide new knowledge about the complicated pathophysiology behind abdominal sepsis, but also form the basis for more effective and specific treatment options for patients with severe infections,” said Henrik Thorlacius, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher involved in the workfrom the Department of Surgery at Skane University Hospital at Lund University, Malmo, Sweden.

To make this discovery, the researchers studied mice with a punctured intestinal bowel and treated half with a statin drug, simvastatin, and the others with only water. The animals treated with simvastatin had much less lung injury than those only given water. Additionally, the simvastatin-treated group demonstrated significantly fewer inflammatory cells in the lung, as well as reduced levels of pro-inflammatory substances. These findings suggest that treatment with statins may be of clinical value for patients with severe abdominal infections.

“Sepsis is a serious medical problem for which few good treatments exist,” said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, “This research is very exciting because statins are readily available and have a well established safety profile, making them a prime candidate for efficacy testing.”

According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH, Sepsis is a major challenge in the intensive care unit, where it is one of the leading causes of death. It is caused when immune chemicals released into the blood to combat infection trigger widespread inflammation, resulting in impaired blood flow, which damages the body’s organs by depriving them of nutrients and oxygen. In the worst cases, the heart weakens and multiple organs””lungs, kidneys, liver””may quickly fail and the patient can die. Each year, severe sepsis strikes about 750,000 Americans, and as many as half die, which is more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined.

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