BU Today

Arts & Entertainment

Your Body, Your Life: News from the Medical Campus

Statins that stave off Alzheimer’s; sarin and Gulf War Syndrome


Statins May Stave Off Alzheimer’s

What’s up: If you’re taking a statin to reduce cholesterol, you may also be improving your chances of avoiding certain neurodegenerative diseases. New research from the School of Medicine indicates that simvastatin, a statin sold as Zocor, reduces the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by almost 50 percent.

The researchers, led by Benjamin Wolozin, a MED professor of pharmacology, screened the Decision Support System database of the United States Veterans Affairs Medical System, looking for the effects of three statins — simvastatin, lovastatin, and atorvastatin — on the expected incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.  His study of more than 700,000 subjects taking simvastatin showed that the drug reduced the incidence of both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by almost 50 percent.  A study of people taking atorvastatin showed that the drug reduced the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease by almost 10 percent. Lovastatin was not shown to reduce the incidence of either disease.

Wolozin is unsure why simvastatin reduces the incidence of these diseases, but he suspects that because the statin blocks a cholesterol-producing enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, it may also affect the production of other chemicals. He notes that simvastatin reduces inflammation, and that it increases the production of some growth factors in the brain, which may make neurons more capable of resisting chronic degenerative disease.

What it means to you:
“If you are someone who is at risk for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, you should use simvastatin because it could slow the process,” said Wolozin. “Most people currently use atorvastatin, because it is effective at reducing vascular injury related to cardiovascular disease. If your major health risk is cardiovascular disease, you might want to stay with atorvastatin, but if your major health risk is neurodegenerative disease, you might consider switching to simvastatin.”

Word to the wise: At the moment, researchers recognize a relationship between simvastatin and the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. They do not know how this relationship works. Be advised that statins may cause side effects such as headaches, nausea, rash, weakness, and muscle pain.

What’s next:
Wolozin hopes to learn to determine how strong the relationship is between statins and degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. He plans on studying how the drug slows the progression of symptoms by gathering data on when Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients, both on and off the drug, meet certain well-known markers of the diseases.

Looking for more?
Wolozin’s findings will be published in BioMed Central (BMC) Medicine later this month.

Sarin May Cause Some Symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome

What’s up:
Sarin gas may be responsible for the some of the symptoms of

SPH Professor Roberta White
investigates sarin gas exposure and the brain.
Photo by Frank Curran

Gulf War syndrome, such as feeling fatigued, and having difficulty multi-tasking, thinking efficiently, and performing tasks quickly. Roberta White, professor and chair of the environmental health department at the School of Public Health, studied the magnetic resonance images of 26 Gulf War veterans’ brains. She found a dose-dependent relationship between sarin exposure and the brain’s white matter, or connective tissue. Of the 26 Gulf War veterans involved in the study, the 13 soldiers who experienced exposure had 5 percent less white matter.

Why it matters:
In 1991, American troops destroyed a munitions complex in Khamisiyah, Iraq, where deadly nerve agents were stored. The Department of Defense, which investigated the incident by recreating the weather on the day of the explosion, estimates that more than 100,000 troops could have been exposed to sarin gas.

Word to the wise:
These findings are very preliminary, and more studies need to be performed. Researchers continue to debate whether or not the Gulf War symptoms are psychological or physiological.

What’s next:
White plans to look at data on 60 more troops who served in the Gulf, and try to confirm what she found in her study. 

Looking for more?
NeuroToxicology published White’s research in June.


BMC appoints new trustees

What’s up:
In June, Boston Medical Center (BMC), appointed four new members to its board of trustees. They are Boston resident Randi Cutler, an active member of BMC’s Friends of Women’s Health, Leadership Council, and Food for Thought Committee; Beacon Hill resident Juan Carlos Morales, a member of the Mellon Financial Corporation; Concord resident Tim Barberich, executive chairman of the pharmaceutical company Sepracor, Inc.; and Wellesley resident Steven Levy, CEO of a start-up called Mears Technologies. The board also includes the provost of the medical campus, Karen Antman.

The board selected these four new members to help with financial governance and oversight responsibilities in their work as an advising committee to the CEO and president, Elaine Ullian. The new board members will serve a three-year term, which is renewable upon completion for up to three terms.

Looking for more? Visit www.bmc.org.