New statin study shows arrested progression of atherosclerosis

The first study to use cutting edge magnetic resonance imaging to examine the effect of a statin - rosuvastatin (Crestor) - on the fatty plaques in arteries, was presented yesterday at the 75th European Atherosclerosis Society Congress. ORION revealed that rosuvastatin has a beneficial effect on the size and composition of fatty plaques in arteries (specifically the carotid artery in the neck). Fatty plaques that are vulnerable to sudden rupture can cause heart attacks and strokes without warning.

The build up of fatty deposits or plaques in the arteries - a process known as atherosclerosis - is the main cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) the biggest single killer in the world, causing up to 70% of all CVD deaths. Results from the ORION study indicate substantial reductions in bad cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) with rosuvastatin treatment were associated with:

  • Arrested progression of atherosclerosis.
  • Regression of the large fatty core (lipid-rich core) in the most diseased sites of plaques. Plaques with a lipid-rich core are recognised by medical experts to be vulnerable to rupture, which can result in sudden cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, often without any prior symptom.

Professor Hatsukami, lead investigator of the ORION study, based at the Washington University School of Medicine, Seattle, comments: "Previous studies suggest that some plaques, for example those with large lipid-rich cores, may pose a higher risk for heart attack or stroke. So, treatment aimed at stabilising the plaque structure may emerge as a vital intervention in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events."

He continues "Results from ORION, a novel study that uses advanced MRI techniques to characterise plaque size and composition, suggest that intensive LDL-C lowering treatment with rosuvastatin may reduce the lipid-rich areas at the most diseased sites within carotid plaques, and is associated with arrested progression in overall plaque burden."

Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP from London added: "Atherosclerosis, the process of furring up of the arteries, is a major cause of cardiovascular disease - the biggest killer in the UK. The ORION study shows us that we can make a real difference to this process, which could translate into significant benefits in terms of patient health and survival."

In a recent National Opinion Poll (NOP) survey of healthcare professionals in the UK, over 90% of cardiologists, GPs and practice nurses questioned said that research showing that statins can slow progression of atherosclerosis and the mechanism by which they do so, would be an important consideration when prescribing statins to patients with high cholesterol levels. Therefore, ORION is important information for health care professionals.

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