MUSC research suggests statins may help fight gum disease

June 10, 2024
Tooth with green at the gum line. The gums are separated from part of the tooth and look red.
Illustration of gum disease from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Research from the Medical University of South Carolina suggests that statins may not only reduce cholesterol levels but also help fight gum disease. Subramanya Pandruvada, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Dental Medicine, oversaw the study. “Our findings support the usage of statins to mitigate periodontal inflammation as a valid strategy,” he said. 

Periodontitis, a common form of gum disease, is not just a health concern, but a significant one among adults in the United States. As Pandruvada pointed out, "About 4 in 10 people 30 years or older had a mild, moderate, or severe level of periodontitis. Its prevalence increases with age, and it is influenced by factors such as smoking, dietary habits, and systemic diseases." This underscores the urgent need for effective treatments like statins, and the importance of our research in addressing this issue, he said. 

While current treatments for gum disease such as deep cleaning, surgery and post-treatment support help, the potential of statins as a new approach is a game-changing development. This has the potential to transform the way we combat gum disease, offering a beacon of hope and optimism for patients and professionals alike, Pandruvada said.

Subramanya Pandruvada, Ph.D. 
Subramanya Pandruvada, Ph.D.

“Due to a wide range of health benefits in addition to their cholesterol-lowering properties, statins have recently attracted significant attention as a new treatment strategy for several conditions not directly related to normalizing a lipid profile and preventing cardiovascular disease. Additionally, they possess antimicrobial, antiviral and fungicidal properties, which make this class of drugs attractive to the field of periodontal diseases and oral and dental health.”

The focus of the Pandruvada lab's statin research was on targeting immune cells to minimize the body's natural response to the bacterial infection that causes gum disease. This innovative approach could potentially shape the future of periodontal research and clinical therapies, inspiring and motivating professionals in the field to explore new avenues of treatment.

That philosophy guided his team’s work on statins. “We modeled acute inflammation in periodontal disease in the lab and uniquely identified pathways associated with macrophage (a type of white blood cell) polarization (the mechanism that causes a physical or chemical change) and their kinetics,” Pandruvada said.

Macrophages play a vital role in the body’s defense against infections. “Our study identified the fluidity of these cell types between their different forms, enhancing our understanding of their specific functions during the inflammation cycle. Importantly, we found that statins, in addition to their known effects, have direct beneficial impacts on macrophages.”


Opening new possibilities


By replicating specific conditions in periodontal disease and demonstrating that introducing statins to an in vitro model modified the immune response, Pandruvada said his team opened new possibilities for using medications such as statins for gum disease.

However, statins can cause side effects, including headaches, muscle pain, constipation and trouble sleeping, so they are not for everyone. Moreover, Pandruvada said further study is needed. 

“A more comprehensive and detailed design of experimental treatments is needed to establish a true correlation between statin treatment and oral symptoms, leaving ample room for further research and potential contributions from scientists.”


Getting the word out


Pandruvada presented the research at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and published their findings in Cells. The study’s lead authors are Waleed Alkakhan, DDS, a former chief resident of Periodontics at MUSC, and former dental student Nico Farrar, DMD.


Pandruvada said the team worked closely in a highly collaborative environment. “That is how I believe science thrives. MUSC has a unique combination of all the things I was looking for to establish my independent lab: a broad spectrum of experts, facilities and resources, allowing me to develop our research fully.”

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