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Study: Pill Can Boost 'Good' Cholesterol

Study: Pill Can Boost 'Good' CholesterolA new study by Tufts researchers finds that a drug can help raise HDL, or ‘good,’ cholesterol levels -- which may usher in a new way to fight heart disease. Boston.

Boston [04.12.04] Last week, new research from Tufts earned the attention of doctors, patients and researchers around the world. In a finding that may impact the way Americans approach heart disease and cholesterol, Tufts researchers found that an experimental medication can increase levels of ‘good' cholesterol, which can help clear clogged arteries. For the millions of people suffering from heart disease in the United States, the finding may lead to new strategies for fighting cholesterol.

"There is certainly a need [for a drug that raises good cholesterol,]" Margaret Brousseau PhD -- assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and an author of the study -- told The Boston Globe.

An estimated 23 million Americans - 11.5 percent of the population - suffered from heart disease in 2001, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. Many rely on statin drugs that reduce LDL, or ‘bad' cholesterol, to help alleviate their condition - but for some it's not enough.

"There are many patients who still develop heart attacks while they're on a statin, unfortunately, so we need to do better," Dr. Ernst J. Schaefer - professor of medicine and an author of the study -- told Boston's WCVB-TV News.

But the Tufts findings may offer doctors a new approach for helping these patients: increasing their good cholesterol with an experimental new drug called Torcetrapib.

"Researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center said that Torcetrapib can dramatically raise HDL levels," reported the news station. "In a small study, they found the drug boosted HDL by as much as 106 percent within four weeks."

And that's good news for many patients. "Even small increases in the HDL cholesterol can significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease," Tufts researchers wrote in their findings - which recently appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And the effects produced by the drug appear to be more effective than other drugs currently prescribed. "The increases in HDL cholesterol were much greater than anything that's been seen previously with other agents," Brousseau told WCVB-TV.

The new drug, which was also found to reduce ‘bad' cholesterol levels by 17 percent, also may have fewer side effects.

"This drug appears to be very well tolerated, doesn't have those kinds of side effects [associated with statin drugs] and raises HDL by about twice as much," Brousseau told the news channel.

Further studies are underway to conclusively show the link between high HDL and reduced risk of heart disease. The drug, which still must go through clinical trials, may be available to patients in as few as three years.

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