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Cholesterol drugs show activity in bone formation, study finds (12-01-99)

The statins, a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs, also enhance new bone formation and may be useful for treating the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, according to new research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The study conducted in cell and rodent models is reported in the Dec. 3 issue of Science.

"Diseases of bone loss are a major public health problem for women in all Western countries," said the study’s corresponding author, Gregory R. Mundy, M.D., professor of medicine at the Health Science Center. "An estimated 30 million Americans are at risk for osteoporosis, the most common of these diseases, and 100 million people are similarly at risk worldwide. In appropriate doses, statins may have therapeutic applications for the treatment of osteoporosis."

The statins’ stimulatory effects on bone in the rodents seemed to occur at doses similar to the cholesterol-lowering doses used in humans. The statins used in the studies and currently on the market are not ideal for use as systemic bone-activation agents, the authors said. The researchers studied lovastatin and simvastatin.

Because osteoporosis occurs most frequently in women past menopause, the researchers administered statins to rodents from which the ovaries had been removed as well as to rats with intact ovaries.

"Despite recent successes with drugs that inhibit bone resorption (loss), there is a clear need for non-toxic anabolic agents that will substantially increase bone formation in people who have already suffered substantial bone loss," the authors wrote. "There are no such drugs currently approved for this indication.

"Our results suggest that statins, which are available as oral medications and have been safely administered to patients for more than a decade, may merit further investigation as potential anabolic agents for bone."

Contact: Will Sansom