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Cholesterol Lowering Statin Drug May Promote Retinal Neuron Regeneration

FBC funded researcher Dr. Philippe Monnier has published a study in the journal Neurobiology of Disease that shows that cholesterol inhibition increases neuron regeneration and survival. The team used two approaches: the drug lovastatin and a genetic editing approach to lower cholesterol levels in an animal model of optic nerve damage. The optic nerve is made up of many cells that send signals from the light sensing photoreceptors to the brain.

In these experiments, cholesterol lowering treatments increased optic nerve regrowth after injury. Researchers also saw that lowering cholesterol in the eye increased survival of both optic nerve cells and photoreceptor cells. Interestingly, previous studies have not shown such strong effects of cholesterol inhibition on neuron regeneration.

More experiments will be important to understand what conditions promoted this effect in this study. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that individuals with retinal
degeneration should start taking statins! One important thing to note is that the drug treatment was given by intravitreal injections to the eye, meaning that a very concentrated dose of lovastatin was being given to a small region of the eye. There is no data to suggest that individuals who take cholesterol-lowering drugs have better
vision or less retinal degeneration. However, this does suggest that there might be a new use for a currently existing and tested drug, and future work from Dr. Monnier’s team will explore this possibility.

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