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Vol. LIX, No. 9
May 4, 2007

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  Rhesus macaques lounge at the NIH Animal Center in Poolesville.  
  Rhesus macaques lounge at the NIH Animal Center in Poolesville.  
Of Man and Monkey

Because the rhesus macaque serves as a strong model for studying human infectious diseases, especially HIV, the sequencing of the rhesus genome-recently announced by a consortium of researchers supported in part by NHGRI-is a powerful tool. By aligning this genome sequence with those of both humans and chimpanzees, the research, published in the Apr. 13 issue of Science, shows these three primate species share 93 percent of their DNA, but also have some significant differences that could advance our knowledge of human biology. In addition to assisting with infectious disease research, the rhesus genome will be helpful in neuroscience, behavioral biology, reproductive physiology, endocrinology and cardiovascular studies. It's the first of the Old World monkeys to have its DNA deciphered.

Breast Cancer Rate Related to Hormone Therapy Drop

A recent reduction in the rate of new breast cancer cases may be related to a national decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), according to a report published in the Apr. 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that used data from NCI's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program. The research showed that age-adjusted breast cancer incidence rates in women in the United States fell 6.7 percent in 2003, a time when prescriptions for HRT also declined rapidly. The reduction in HRT use followed reports on a Women's Health Initiative study showing increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots and urinary incontinence among postmenopausal women using HRT that included both estrogen and progestin.

Measured Reactions

How can one person with an allergic reaction simply sneeze while another develops a severe, life-threatening response known as anaphylaxis? A recent NIAMS study published in the journal Immunity sheds some light on immune system differences. Researchers, including scientists from NIDDK, found that mice with high levels of a molecule called sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) in their blood were very susceptible to anaphylaxis. Since humans also have S1P, varying in levels from person to person, researchers can now study it in people who have a history of anaphylactic shock. If levels of the molecule can predict who is at risk for anaphylaxis, S1P could eventually serve as a diagnostic tool.

Looking Earlier for Heart Disease Risk

People with elevated risk factors for heart disease between the ages of 18 and 30 can have two to three times greater risk of developing coronary calcium, a strong predictor of heart disease. These findings, in a study by NHLBI recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, show that risk factors like smoking, having an elevated body mass index or having above-optimal levels of blood pressure in early adulthood are linked to the development of calcium deposits in heart arteries 15 years later. Amounts of coronary calcium have already proven to be related to the likelihood of developing heart disease in the future. The study clearly points to the need for early assessment of heart disease risk: if young adults modify these risk factors they can improve their chances of a heart-healthy middle age.

Tai Chi Intervention

As for older adults, a study supported by NIA and NCCAM shows that practicing Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese form of exercise, can boost immunity to the virus that causes shingles. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in April, the study is the first rigorous clinical trial to suggest that a behavioral intervention can help protect older adults from varicella-zoster virus; it also shows that the exercise can improve the immune response to varicella vaccine. Not bad for an ancient practice that, according to this study, can also improve physical functioning, reduce bodily pain, boost vitality and lead to significant declines in the severity of depression symptoms.—

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