Statin use is not the cause of early onset cataracts, according to a new genetic study of British South East Asians by scientists at St Mary University in London.
The study, which challenges previous work linking statin use to increased cataract risk, suggests that individuals with a genetic variant associated with higher statin exposure actually have a decreased risk of developing cataracts.
The findings, published in The Pharmacogenomics Journal, highlight the need for healthcare workers to counsel patients that statins are not independently associated with the early development of cataracts.
South Asian ancestry populations suffer from a particularly high prevalence of cardiometabolic disease, a risk factor for young-onset cataracts. It also means they are more likely to be taking statins. By examining the genetics of over 36,000 British Asian people, an often underrepresented group in genetic studies, the researchers were able to explore statin-related adverse drug reactions. The researchers used patient data from Genes & Health which has recruited more than 55,000 South Asian research volunteers from East London, Manchester and Bradford.
The analysis revealed that a specific genetic variant, which leads to heightened statin exposure, is independently linked to a reduced risk of developing cataracts at a younger age. This genetic variant was present in approximately one in every twelve study participants and is known to have a higher prevalence among individuals of European ancestry.
Dr Emma Magavern, from Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘This is the first study of its kind to use genetic markers of statin exposure to explore the connection between statin use and cataracts. It finds that the genetic variant known to lead to higher statin exposure is independently associated with lower young-onset cataract risk.’
She explained that prior observational studies which have found associations between statin use and increased cataracts are likely due to the shared risk factors of statin indications and cataracts linked to cardio-metabolic disease.
Dr Magavern added: ‘This study refutes previous claims of statins being a cause of cataracts and instead suggests that individuals with the genetic variant associated with higher statin exposure have a decreased risk of developing cataracts.’
The researchers stated that the findings add a significant piece of the puzzle surrounding the statin and cataract association controversy and suggest that pharmacogenomics, or how a person’s genes respond to the statin medication, decreases cataract risk by higher exposure to statins.