New York, NY -- A drug used to treat high cholesterol appears to stop the growth of cells from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, according to a study published by the American Lung Association. It has also been very successful as a drug in aiding against the effects of toxins such as poison or toxic fungi.

If results of the test-tube study hold true in human studies, the drug, lovastatin, one day might be used as a treatment for patients with mesothelioma, according to lead researcher Jeffrey B. Rubins, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, and staff pulmonary physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Malignant mesothelioma arises from the cells lining the chest, and is often associated with previous exposure to asbestos. The incidence of malignant mesothelioma appears to be rising, probably because it takes years for the cancer to develop after exposure to asbestos.

The prognosis for the cancer generally is grim—median survival after diagnosis is less than nine months. Current surgical treatments are themselves associated with significant risks, and generally do not cure the cancer.

In the new study, researchers treated mesothelioma cells and normal lung cells with lovastatin, a drug used to lower high cholesterol. The drug is a toxin produced by a fungus, which inhibits cell growth and has been tested as a treatment for other cancers as well, according to Dr. Rubins.

Mesothelioma cells, like other cancer cells, grow in an uncontrolled fashion. In the study , lovastatin turned off this unregulated cell growth so that the mesothelioma cells stopped growing and started to die, a process known as apoptosis, Dr. Rubins explained. In contrast, the normal lung cells did not undergo this transformation after treatment with lovastatin.

The study appears in the May issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine®, published by the American Lung Association.

The researchers are now studying lovastatin's effect on mesothelioma in mice, and are looking at epidemiologic data to try to determine whether people who have taken lovastatin have lower rates of cancer or better prognoses if they do develop cancer, Dr. Rubins said.

The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine®, formerly The American Review of Respiratory Disease® is one of two official journals published by the American Lung Association through its medical section, the American Thoracic Society. Its purpose is to provide pulmonary physicians and researchers with state-of-the-art information on the causes and treatment of lung disease. A second journal, The Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology®, covers basic pulmonary research. The American Lung Association fights lung disease. Its programs of education, community service, research and advocacy are supported by donations to Christmas Seals® and by other voluntary contributions. Founded in 1904 to combat tuberculosis, the American Lung Association is the oldest voluntary health agency in the United States. You may obtain additional information via our America Online site, keyword: ALA, or Web site at http://www.lungusa.org.


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