Statins could be used to help treat multiple sclerosis

Widely prescribed anti-cholesterol drugs are being tested to see whether they could be used to help treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Widely prescribed anti-cholesterol drugs are being tested to see whether they could be used to help treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Experts have launched an assessment to see whether cheap statins may become an MS treatment as well as lowering cholesterol.

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The six-year trial will involve 1,180 people with secondary progressive MS at almost 30 centres across the UK, with the first participants starting to take the medication later this year.

The £6 million project will test simvastatin in people with the secondary progressive form of MS.

People with this form of MS have limited options as there are currently no licensed treatments that can slow or stop disability progression.

MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK.

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The majority of people who are diagnosed with the condition are told they have relapsing MS and around half of those patients will develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years.

Lead researcher Dr Jeremy Chataway, from University College London’s Institute of Neurology, who led an earlier study into the drug, said: “This drug holds incredible promise for the thousands of people living with secondary progressive MS in the UK, and around the world, who currently have few options for treatments that have an effect on disability.

“This study will establish definitively whether simvastatin is able to slow the rate of disability progression over a three year period, and we are very hopeful it will.”

A small study involving 140 people with secondary progressive MS, which was published in the Lancet in 2014, found those taking high doses of the drug had a significant reduction in the rate of brain shrinkage over two years and also had better disability scores at the end of the study.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, which is part-funding the trial, added: “This is a momentous step forward in our quest to find an effective treatment for progressive MS.”

Scotland has among the highest prevalence of the condition in the world, with around 10,000 sufferers.

MS is a condition of the central nervous system. People typically start experiencing symptoms in their 20s and 30s, which include fatigue, sight loss, incontinence and disability.