Cholesterol-Lowering Drug Helps Rebuild Bone

Report in Science says drug should help women with osteoporosis

December 02, 1999

As many as 30 million Americans who are at risk from osteoporosis may benefit from a kind of drug already used by thousands of patients to control their cholesterol, says a study in the Dec. 3 issue of Science. The class of drugs currently marketed for lowering cholesterol, called statins, was found to help grow new bone in mice and rats.

"The greatest single need in therapy for osteoporosis today is a drug that causes substantial bone formation," explains Brendan F. Boyce, M.D., Director of Surgical Pathology of the University of Rochester. "We've found that in the right doses, these drugs increased bone formation just as well as the best bone growth stimulators we know of."

All anti-osteoporosis drugs now on the market work to slow the work of osteoclasts, the cells that rob bones of their calcium and other nutrients. Statins on the other hand boost the work of the sister cells, called osteoblasts, which rebuild the bone. Current treatments can only increase bone mass by about 5-8 percent, says Boyce, but statins were found to increase bone mass in mice and rats by as much as 50-100 percent.

The only difference between the treatment given to rats and that given to people trying to control their cholesterol was the dosage, but the current dosage may still provide help. Boyce suggests that studies looking at the effects of currently available statins be performed on postmenopausal women to determine their effects on bone mass. Other drugs in the statin class may prove to be even more effective, and thus other types of statins that may have been passed over because they have less beneficial effects on cholesterol could be tested to see if they can be used at higher doses to significantly increase bone mass.

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