24 Sep 2009 13:50:00.000
They have been hailed as wonder drugs - lowering cholesterol and helping heart patients recover their health - but side effects of some statin therapies may be loss of muscle mass and premature fatigue, especially in older people, the largest patient group taking them.
In older people there is a clear relationship between the maintenance of muscle mass and quality of life and longevity. Healthy muscles improve mobility and physical fitness, protecting against the falls which can often lead to the onset of more serious illness and disabilities.
Now researchers at The University of Nottingham are asking older members of the public to help them with a new two-year research project to discover the underlying causes of an effect that they have already found impairs muscle maintenance in animals.
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“There’s no doubt statins have a very positive outcome in reducing incidences of cardiac events and stroke attributable to high blood cholesterol levels,” said Primary Investigator Paul Greenhaff, Professor of Muscle Metabolism at The University of Nottingham.
“However, we have found one, simvastatin — the version most frequently prescribed in the UK and the main one given to many elderly patients, can cause impairment of pathways regulating muscle mass and metabolism,” he said.
Professor Greenhaff and his colleagues Dr Tim Constantin and Professor Michael Rennie have been awarded just over £238,000 by the Dunhill Medical Trust, a charitable institution interested in the UK’s aging population, to conduct research into these side effects.
“We are especially grateful to the Dunhill Medical Trust for supporting this project,” said Professor Greenhaff. “Due to the well documented benefits of statins for cardiovascular health and mortality, it would have been difficult to secure funding without the Trust.”
This grant allows the team to take on a clinician, a postdoctoral researcher and other staff to conduct detailed experiments to learn how and why certain statins appear to blunt muscle protein synthesis and the slowing effect that insulin has on muscle breakdown.
It will also enable them to recruit healthy elderly people for their study as well as those who have experienced muscle soreness and other symptoms associated with the side effects of simvastatin. “We’re very keen to recruit healthy older volunteers for this vital study to determine the incidences of muscle impairment and the mechanisms that cause it,” said Professor Greenhaff.
“In the medical literature, we see that in the general population the incidence of adverse effects associated with taking statins is low,” he added. “However, in the elderly, the group to whom simvastatin is most often prescribed, the incidence of muscle impairment increases by as much as 10 per cent.”
The team aims to understand the underlying causes of muscle mass loss, metabolic impairment and premature fatigue in patients affected by these side effects. Normally a GP will simply prescribe another type of statin to see if that works better, but it’s important to understand the physiological reasons why this occurs.
“It appears from the research we recently carried out in partnership with AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals that some statins cause insulin resistance in muscles and activation of pathways that cause muscle protein loss.”
Nottingham has a leading international reputation for human metabolic physiology — the effect of diet on health and disease. Professor Greenhaff and colleagues have already determined that when older people eat, they cannot make muscle as fast as the young. Nottingham research colleagues recently revealed why the suppression of muscle breakdown, which also happens during feeding, is blunted with age.
Professor Greenhaff and Research Fellow Joanne Mallinson in the School of Biomedical Sciences are currently recruiting healthy men 65 years and over who are taking the drug simvastatin or zocor and are experiencing muscle aches and pains. They are also recruiting healthy men 65 years and over who do not take statins. Those interested in being a participant should contact Joanne, on: 0115 823 0578 or 0115 823 0248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Notes to editors: The Dunhill Medical Trust is a registered UK charity (no. 294286) which supports research and non-research projects related to ageing and the care of older people. More information is available at www.dunhillmedical.org.uk.
The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK’s Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.
Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
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