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Study Finds Nicotine Supports Angiogenesis and Speeds Tumor Growth
However, Short-term Use for Smoking Cessation Still Supported
Article date: 2001/08/20
July 26, 2001 (ACS NewsToday) -- Stanford University researchers have published the first scientifically accepted evidence showing that nicotine may fuel two disease processes, cancer and coronary artery disease, in the current issue of Nature Medicine (Vol. 7, No. 7: 833-839). In the article, researchers describe experiments in test tubes and in mice that reveal how nicotine stimulates the growth of tumors and the accumulation of plaque in coronary arteries through a process called angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels). "We show that nicotine is a powerful angiogenic agent, a powerful stimulant for blood vessel growth," explains John P. Cooke, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and the study’s lead author. The research provides insight on how smoking may accelerate cancer and heart disease, but it also may have implications for the use of nicotine as a therapy, according to Cooke. "Angiogenesis is a two-edged sword," Cooke tells ACS News Today. "It plays an important negative role in the growth and spread of tumors and in the creation of coronary artery plaque, but it also has the potential for positive therapeutic uses." ACS Funds Angiogenesis Research as Part of the Search for a Cure Most tumors cannot grow and metastasize unless the body creates new blood vessels that provide nutrition and oxygen for that growth, points out David Ringer, PhD, American Cancer Society (ACS) scientific program director. That is why the ACS is helping fund research projects designed to discover how to "turn off" angiogenesis and thus stop the growth of malignancies, he explains. "We see this as a crucial area of research that may lead to future treatments," says Ringer, who helps manage and develop ACS research programs. Nicotine May Have Therapeutic Uses Meanwhile, scientists researching heart disease are trying to learn how to "turn on" angiogenesis when it is needed. "Their goal is to turn on angiogenesis to grow new blood vessels when needed, for instance to heal wounded hearts," explains Cooke, a cardiologist. Concern About Long-Term Use of Nicotine Products The new evidence about nicotine’s effect on angiogenesis raises concern about the safety of nicotine products used by people trying to wean themselves from tobacco. "People have to be careful about how they use nicotine patches and nicotine gum," says Cooke. "They are useful tools for tobacco cessation and are safe if used as directed, but our research indicates that they definitely should not be used on a long-term basis." There are reports that some people use nicotine gum for months or even years, says Cooke and "that may have unintended adverse consequences." Adds Ringer: "Keep in mind that nicotine, like most drugs, has both risks and benefits that have to be weighed and balanced. This is a very well done study that alerts users of nicotine that chronic long-term exposure may involve future increased risk for tumor development or CHD. "However, the use of nicotine replacement therapy for tobacco cessation clearly remains in the benefit column for tobacco users," Ringer says. "This new information should not deter smokers from using nicotine as part of a short term smoking cessation program."
ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.
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