Philadelphia – Despite their beneficial effects in heart disease, neither aspirin nor simvastatin appear to offer benefit to patients suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Although both aspirin and simvastatin are effective in many types of cardiovascular disease, these drugs have not been well-studied in the treatment of PAH," said Steven Kawut, MD, MS, lead author of the study and associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and director of the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program at Penn. "Our study was designed to determine if the drugs could be effective in the treatment of PAH."
PAH is a progressive, incurable disease that occurs when the blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs increases, causing shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue, especially upon exertion, and can ultimately lead to heart failure and death. PAH can occur on its own or be associated with other conditions, such as connective tissue diseases and congenital heart disease.
"Surprisingly, we found no evidence that aspirin or simvastatin had beneficial clinical effects in this population, and the study was terminated early by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute upon the recommendation of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB)," said Dr. Kawut. "The results of this study do not support the routine treatment of PAH with these medications."
Researchers enrolled 65 patients in this placebo-controlled trial and randomized them into four groups: one in which patients received aspirin, one in which patients received simvastatin, one in which patients received both drugs, and one in which patients received neither drug. The main outcome, six-minute walk distance (6MWD) (a measure of how far a person can walk in six minutes) tended to be lower in the group taking simvastatin at six months. Based on these early results, the DSMB recommended stopping the study since there was a low probability of demonstrating a beneficial effect of simvastatin even if the study enrolled the planned number of subjects (92). There was no significant difference in the 6MWD between the group taking aspirin and the group taking placebo.
"Multiple animal studies have suggested that simvastatin would be effective in PAH, and aspirin has biologic effects which would be expected to benefit PAH patients," Dr. Kawut said. "This study demonstrates that federally-funded, investigator-initiated randomized clinical trials (RCTs) in PAH and other pulmonary vascular diseases are feasible. The findings show the importance of subjecting traditional cardiovascular therapies and drugs which appear effective in the laboratory to placebo-controlled RCTs in humans before recommending their use."
The results of the study will be presented at the ATS 2011 International Conference in Denver and printed in the journal Circulation.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 16 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $398 million awarded in the 2012 fiscal year.
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