NUI Galway researchers have been part of a large-scale clinical trial of statin treatment in patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS ) which was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM ).
This international, multi-centre study, led by the Irish Critical Care Trials group, was carried out in over 40 Intensive Care Units across Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was funded by the UK’s Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme (a Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research partnership ) and by Ireland’s Health Research Board. This four-year project tested the efficacy of the drug simvastatin in 540 patients with ARDS.
ARDS is a devastating condition that occurs in patients with critical illnesses such as severe infections or following severe injuries. The primary condition triggers an uncontrolled inflammatory response which in turn damages the lining of the lungs causing them to fill with fluid. Patients with ARDS are unable to breathe on their own and require artificial ventilation. There is currently no effective treatment for the condition, and about 25 per cent of patients with ARDS die of the combined effects of the lung inflammation and the primary condition.
Observational and early stage research strongly suggested that statins, drugs widely prescribed to lower cholesterol levels in the blood in order to prevent strokes and heart attacks, might also reduce the inflammatory response to critical illnesses and so might reduce the severity of ARDS. Statins are cheap, generally safe drugs with few side effects which, if the early research translated into a benefit in clinical practice, would be rapidly adopted to treat ARDS.
According to Graham Love, Chief Executive of the Health Research Board: "Health research is not just about always finding new treatments. Sometimes it is just as important to rule something out as it is to rule it in. It is very encouraging to see one of the HRB's investments in clinical research infrastructure play such an important role in this study. The HRB Clinical Research Facility in Galway has enabled Irish researchers to collaborate internationally and contribute to significant clinical findings, as evidenced by this research being published in such a renowned medical journal.”