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Vol. LX, No. 9
May 2, 2008

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Being physically active is one of several lifestyle approaches used to meet blood pressure and cholesterol treatment targets.
Being physically active is one of several lifestyle approaches used to meet blood pressure and cholesterol treatment targets.

Forcing Atherosclerosis into Retreat

According to new research supported by NHLBI, hardening of the arteries in adults with type 2 diabetes may be prevented and possibly reversed by aggressively lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels below current targets. Conducted with close to 500 participants over 3 years, the study is the first to compare two treatment targets for LDL or “bad” cholesterol and systolic blood pressure levels, which are key risk factors for heart disease in people with diabetes. Researchers said this is good news for adults with the disease because they are two to four times more likely than people without diabetes to die from heart disease. Hardening of the arteries—also known as atherosclerosis—is the number one cause of heart disease and can lead to heart attack, stroke and death. The results of the study were published in the Apr. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dangerous Waistlines

A new study conducted in part by researchers at NICHD and supported by NIDDK, NCI and NHLBI shows that women who carry excess fat around their waists are at greater risk of dying early from cancer or heart disease than are women with smaller waists—even if they are not overweight. For the study, published online in Circulation, researchers analyzed data from more than 44,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, a report that followed the health history of thousands of registered nurses in 11 states. There’s been increasing evidence that excess abdominal fat is a risk factor for long-term conditions like diabetes and heart disease, but the relationship between abdominal obesity—or excess fat around one’s midsection—and risk of death has not been widely studied. The current study is one of the largest extended investigations of abdominal obesity and women’s risk of premature death.

Insights into Alcohol Withdrawal Anxiety

A new NIAAA-supported study found that changes to genetic material in the brain may help trigger the anxiety that’s characteristic of alcohol withdrawal. Previous studies have implicated the brain structure known as the amygdala in anxiety and alcohol-drinking behaviors; other studies have shown that chemical modifications to chromatin—or the complex of DNA and proteins within every cell nucleus—can influence gene expression and therefore may affect disease processes. In the current study, researchers found that in rats, the removal of some common components of molecules called acetyl groups from chromatin proteins or “histones” in amygdala chromatin was linked to increased anxiety brought on by alcohol withdrawal. In other words, the study shows alcohol exposure can cause brain changes that make rats anxious when alcohol is taken away. The findings, published in the Apr. 2 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, could point to possible therapies to prevent this anxiety, a driving force behind alcohol use among dependent individuals.

Factors that Influence a Preemie’s Survival

Researchers in an NICHD-supported newborn research network have identified several factors that influence an extremely low birth weight infant’s chance for survival and disability. Based on observations of more than 4,000 infants, the findings offer new information to physicians and families considering the best treatment options for these smallest of patients. Extremely low birth weight infants—the most frail category of preterm infants—are born in the 22nd through the 25th week of pregnancy, far earlier than the 40 weeks of a full term, and many don’t survive. The researchers, who published their findings in the Apr. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that factors that influence survival and risk of disability include the baby’s gestational age, gender and birth weight, whether or not it was a single baby and whether the baby’s mother was given medication during pregnancy to prompt the development of the baby’s lungs. The study authors also developed an online tool that generates statistics based on the factors listed in the article. They said the tool (found on NICHD’s site) should not be seen as a substitute for a physician’s assessment, but it could provide helpful information for treatment decisions.—

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