The commonly prescribed statin, atorvastatin, has been found to reduce inflammation in the brain that occurs after surgery in mice, which can lead to post-operative decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
The research led by Dr Daqing Ma at Imperial College London and funded by Alzheimer’s Society was published today (Thursday 17 October 2013) in the journal Annals of Surgery.
The drug, which is widely used to treat high cholesterol, was orally given to mice for five days before they underwent surgery on their kidneys. This study shows that atorvastatin reduced inflammation and also protected neurons in the brain and improved memory of mice in the days after surgery.
Following surgery, mice show a general decline in performance on memory tests. Pre-treating the mice with atorvastatin prevented this decline in memory, offering some protection to the negative effects that surgery can have cognitive function.
Often, when people undergo major surgery under anaesthesia, some patients can develop problems with memory recall and concentration. If these symptoms last for longer it is then called postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), and some of those patients can go on develop into Alzheimer’s disease.
With over 65 year olds predicted to become the largest group of society having surgery by 2020, the number of people who are at risk of developing post-operative cognitive decline is set to rise dramatically.
Lead researcher Dr Daqing Ma said:
‘Sometimes having an operation is unavoidable, especially for elderly people. We shouldn’t ignore the potential side-effects such as memory impairment following surgery – these should be prevented or treated wherever possible. The strategy demonstrated in this study is a good attempt but further studies are needed before clinical trials can be initiated.’
Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said:
‘We’ve known for sometime that having an operation can have an effect on people’s memory and sometimes trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The potential for a treatment that could prevent this from happening is positive and these findings are promising, but further research is now needed.
‘Further studies will give us a better understanding of the biology behind this and determine whether atorvastatin may be a good candidate drug to test in the elderly undergoing surgery. Ultimately clinical trials are needed to see if the statin could indeed protect our brains too, as well as in mice.’