Branched Blood Vessels Slow Statins

12 July 2009


The shape of blood vessels may affect how effective Statins are against preventing heart disease, according to new research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry this week.

Lovastatin, the first statin to be marketedStatins lower levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein, or LDL, Cholesterol found in the plasma of our blood, and so help to prevent the fatty build-ups that lead to blocked arteries and heart disease.  They're very widely prescribed to people at high risk of heart attack, and estimated to save nearly ten thousand lives per year.  This research, from a team at Imperial College London, is the first to show that biomechanical forces effect how well Statins will perform.

Statins are thought to help by releasing anti-oxidants through boosting levels of an enzyme called heme oxygenase-1, of HO-1, which is created by the endothelial cells that line our arteries.  By measuring the levels of HO-1 in different parts of the circulatory system, Dr Justin Mason and colleagues were able to ascertain how useful Statins are under different conditions.

They found that the increase of HO-1 was significantly higher in cells exposed to fast, regular blood flow, when compared to areas where blood flow was sluggish.  This means that at areas where blood vessels branch and flow is disrupted, Statins show fewer beneficial effects.

Unfortunately, arteries do not clog up in a uniform way, and are more likely to develop fatty deposits in the areas where blood moves most sluggishly - exactly where the Statins have least effect.  Other research has shown that the cells lining our arteries can sense the 'shear stress' exerted by passing blood, and this alters their ability to keep the artery healthy.  Dr Mason described this as "a double whammy".

They now intend to work with fluid engineers to discover how to get the best from Statins, and gain the full beneficial effect regardless of the rate and smoothness of blood flow.  We already know that Statins are safe and effective, and this research could expose a way to save even more lives.


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