MRI can measure early benefits of cholesterol-lowering drugs and plaque reduction

Using modified magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, researchers at Johns Hopkins have been able to detect the early benefits of a cholesterol-lowering medication much sooner than before.

The researchers applied MRI to measure the success of simvastatin (Zocor), a widely used form of so-called statin therapy, in reducing plaque formation in patients with hardened and clogged arteries, or atherosclerosis. Reductions in plaque levels were detected within six months after therapy began. Traditionally, MRI has been unable to show results until one or two years after the onset of treatment.

The Hopkins findings, to be published in the journal Circulation online Oct. 11, should make it easier for physicians to monitor how well initial cholesterol-lowering therapy works for patients, especially those with advanced-stage cardiovascular disease in need of quick results.

The research also linked the early benefits of statins to their lipid-lowering actions, not to anti-inflammatory properties as some earlier studies suggested.

"Our study increases the likelihood that MRI could eventually be used as a predictive technology for determining which patients should be placed on statin therapy for atherosclerosis," said the study's lead author and cardiologist Joo Lima, M.D., associate professor of medicine and radiology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"Heart disease, especially atherosclerosis, is still the leading cause of death in the United States," added Lima. "While it has been proven that patients can benefit from even a short period of statin therapy, as early as 16 weeks, our abilities to harness modern technology for monitoring this condition - and tracking the effectiveness of our treatments - have not kept pace until now."

Cholesterol-lowering medications, which decrease lipid/fat levels in the blood, have been shown to reduce plaque formation by as much 30 percent to 40 percen

Contact: David March
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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