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'.