Improving colitis treatment

Cholesterol-reducing statin drugs could relieve ulcerative colitis

Illustration of colitis pain by Melinda Becfk

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs could provide significant relief for the nearly 1 million people in the United States with ulcerative colitis, a new study showed.

Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the bowel, leaving patients vulnerable to extreme abdominal pain, blood in the stool, constipation and fatigue, said senior author Purvesh Khatri, PhD, an associate professor of medicine and of biomedical data science.

The condition is often debilitating and has no real cure. Treatments include anti-inflammatory and immune-regulating drugs, which aren’t always effective. Another option is surgical removal of parts of the colon.

“It’s a drastic measure,” Khatri said. “So we thought, ‘Can we use available data to see whether drugs that are already approved by the FDA can be repurposed to better treat these patients?’”

His team analyzed publicly available anonymized patient health information that included genomic and prescription data and searched for FDA-approved drugs that reversed gene activity patterns in ulcerative colitis patients.

People with ulcerative colitis who were taking statins had about a 50% decrease in colon surgery rates, were less likely to be hospitalized and were prescribed other anti-inflammatory drugs at a lower rate, revealed the study, published in September 2021 in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

“I think we’re almost there,” Khatri said. “We need to validate the effects a bit more stringently before moving it into the clinic.”

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Hanae Armitage

Hanae Armitage is a science writer in the Office of Communications. Email her at

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