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Anti-Cholesterol Drug May Ease Back Pain

Lab results suggest that Lovastatin could help with degenerative disc disease

MONDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin (Mevacor) might improve outcomes for people who have surgery for degenerative disc disease, a major cause of back pain.

In an attempt to find ways to stop or reverse degenerative disc disease, orthopedic researchers have been extracting cells from disc tissue removed during surgery and cultivating the cells in the laboratory. The cells are then transferred back into patients.

In a small study, Dr. Shu-Hua Yang, chief of the department of orthopedics at National Taiwan University, and his colleagues found that lovastatin helps the differentiation of disc cells being cultivated in the lab.

The study included six people, ages 23 to 29, who were having surgery for herniated lumbar discs. The researchers removed cells from the nucleus pulposus (the jelly-like substance in the middle of a spinal disc) and added lovastatin to see if it would maximize expression of collagen II and minimize expression of collagen I, two proteins involved in bone formation.

After 72 hours, the number of nucleus pulposus cells had increased, the production of collagen II (which makes up moveable joints) had increased, and the production of collagen I (which plays a role in the development of excess fibrous connective tissues) had decreased. Lovastatin caused no harm to the nucleus pulposus cells, the researchers reported.

The findings were to be presented during the annual meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society this week in Las Vegas.

"Regeneration of the nucleus pulposus tissue in the early stage of intervertebral disc degeneration can theoretically retard or even reverse the degenerative process and possibly regain a healthy intervertebral disc," Yang said in an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons news release. "Further studies are needed to determine the potentials of statins for regeneration and repair of degenerative disc disease."

In a second study scheduled for presentation at the meeting, Yang and his team found that the tissue of younger people is generally more suitable for regeneration than tissue from older people.

More information

The North American Spine Society has more about degenerative conditions.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, news release, Feb. 22, 2009

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