Newspaper article International New York Times

Statins to Help Treat Ebola?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Statins to Help Treat Ebola?

Article excerpt

Drugs that were developed to treat patients with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes may be effective.

This week, the World Health Organization endorsed the use of experimental drugs in the fight against the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. That is the right decision. There is no proven vaccine or treatment for Ebola, and in light of the severity of the current outbreak, experimental treatments that have not been tested on humans should be an option.

The problem is that these drugs are in exceedingly short supply. Recently, two American aid workers infected with the Ebola virus were treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, and they survived. Unfortunately, only a handful of doses of ZMapp have been produced. For the foreseeable future, even limited deployment of this and other experimental drugs will be impossible.

Is there anything else that could be used to treat Ebola patients? We believe that several widely available drugs that were initially developed to treat patients with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, surprising as it may seem, may be effective.

More than a decade ago, clinicians noted striking similarities between patients with Ebola and those with bacterial sepsis. Both diseases involve severe dysfunction of the endothelial cells that line blood vessels throughout the body. This dysfunction in turn precipitates major abnormalities in blood coagulation. Both can eventually lead to the failure of internal organs, primarily the liver and kidneys, and organ failure often leads to death. Something similar is seen in many patients with other forms of acute critical illness, including pneumonia and influenza.

Researchers have since discovered that abnormalities of endothelial function and coagulation can be modified or reversed by treatment with drugs such as statins, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs), which were developed to treat patients with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Known as immunomodulatory drugs, they also have the ability to modify the body's response to infection. While they don't prevent infection itself, they can prevent complications like organ failure. …

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