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Statin gene test could reveal patients prone to harmful side-effects

28 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 527

A new NHS-funded study will test patients for genes that may play a key role in side-effects related to statin use.

Statins are prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels in people with a high risk of cardiovascular disease, which includes those with type 2 diabetes. In 2008 there were 48.5 million prescriptions for statins dispensed in Britain, and an estimated 2.3 million people are now taking them. But some statin users can suffer adverse effects, including liver problems, and muscular soreness known as myopathy. In extremely rare cases, a condition called rhabdomyolysis can also occur, in which muscles can start to disintegrate.

Recent evidence shows that certain genes may be instrumental in predicting whether people on statins are more likely to develop these adverse effects. A single change in a gene known as COQ2 has been associated with more than twice the odds of myopathy in people taking statins. For an unrelated gene, SLCO1B1, mutations can increase the chance of myopathy by 4.5 to 17 times.

The Times reports that a new study led by Dr Rachel Marrington, a senior clinical biochemist at Birmingham Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, will address whether testing patients for these gene variants could be a reliable method of identifying those at greatest risk of muscle-wasting side-effects. Recruitment of several hundred West Midlands and Bristol patients for the four-year, £115,000 project has now begun.

The genetic test results from Dr Marrington's study are for research purposes only and will not be used to change treatment plans for the participants being recruited. However, genetic testing could become an integral part of personalized medicine that could contribute to informed use of prescribed drugs and improved compliance. Dr Marrington told the Times, 'It is still a long way off but if associations are shown to be robust in the general population we could be using this as a frontline test before patients are placed on drugs'.

First step to personalised medicine as statin users offered genetic tests
The Times |  25 September 2009
2 September 2013 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
A variant of a gene involved in energy storage in muscles may be linked to problems experienced by some users of the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins...
28 July 2008 - by Ailsa Stevens 
A rare but serious side effect experienced by people taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins may be avoided in up to 60 per cent of cases, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. The University of Oxford-based research team identified a gene...
23 June 2008 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
A third of people have genetic variations that cut their risk of heart disease, perhaps by increasing the level of 'good' (HDL) cholesterol in their blood, say UK and Dutch scientists. A new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that individuals...
18 June 2004 - by BioNews 
Genes can affect a person's response to statins, drugs used to lower blood cholesterol levels, say US researchers. Researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston say their study shows that knowledge about the interaction between genes and drugs is growing 'in leaps and bounds'. Their findings, published in...
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