National study to include 375 RGV seniors

Dr. Sohail Rao is the president and CEO of DHR Health Institute for Research and Development. (Courtesy photo)

Local residents have the opportunity to take part in the largest study the National Institute of Health has ever conducted for seniors, which will assess whether medications that lower cholesterol also work to prevent cognitive disabilities such as dementia, and heart diseases.

DHR Health Institute for Research and Development and DHR Health in Edinburg was announced as one of the 100 sites across the nation for the study called PREVENTABLE.

NIH is paying $19 million for the five-year study, in which 20,000 participants older than 75 years old — of which 375 will be from the Rio Grande Valley — will be taking a statin (a drug that lowers cholesterol) or a placebo regularly; they won’t be told which one they will be receiving. Researchers will monitor the cognitive and physical abilities of the individuals.

The statin that will be used for this clinical trial will be Lipitor.

The DHR research center president and CEO Dr. Sohail Rao said it was important for the Rio Grande Valley to take part in the study because Hispanic representation is often low.

“Our concern is that minorities, particularly the (Hispanics), are not getting engaged in critical research, and we are basically extrapolating data we have obtained from non-Hispanic populations into Hispanic populations,” he said. “And it may actually be very different in the two populations.”

Rao noted that statins are absorbed in Black people differently than white people, however, “there is no research that can tell us about how Hispanic populations react. So the more we recruit, the better evaluation tools we would have.”

Cholesterol is a type of fat that runs through a person’s bloodstream and naturally, the body makes the right amount of fat it needs on its own. When someone’s diet consists of fatty foods they risk a buildup of cholesterol in their blood, which causes blood vessels to harden and slow blood circulation.

Poor blood flow to organs, especially to the brain and heart, can lead to additional serious chronic diseases.

Nearly 37% of people in Hidalgo County suffer from heart diseases, according to U.S. News & World Report, while the nation’s rate is 27%.

According to the NIH, one in three people in the nation older than 75 without heart disease are taking statins, and the PREVENTABLE study will determine whether the medication is lowering their risk of developing mental disorders.

Rao added that the study is focusing on those 75 or older because dementia is a “disease of aging.”

He said he has two hopes for the study.

“One: We would like to get more local residents to get engaged and involved so that we have a better idea of how the drugs are working in the (Hispanic) population,” Rao said. “And two: I think this is going to be of tremendous value because it will improve the quality of life of our elderly. If it is true that statins prevent dementia and cognitive disabilities or decline, and cardiovascular diseases, then nothing is better than to be in this particular study and for us to help the future generations.”