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MedUni Vienna researchers discover vessel-damaging activation of the “intracellular waste disposal” mechanism in smokers

Vienna (26th July 2011) – A research term headed by David Bernhard from the University Department of Surgery at the Medical University of Vienna has found out that substances found in cigarette smoke lead to blood vessels’ endothelial cells constantly digesting themselves. This permanent damage to the interior surface of the blood vessels leads, amongst others, to calcification of the arteries, as the recently published study confirms.

“The autodigestion in vessels‘ endothelial cells works like an intracellular waste disposal”, says Bernhard. Damaged cell components are caught, digested and recycled. Usually this is not a problem as new cell components are then created again. However, in smokers this process of digestion is constantly activated, and it leads to an excessive reaction. As a result the vessels‘ endothelial cells are lastingly damaged and vascular inflammations and damage occurs. In addition important properties of the endothelial cells are damaged. Bernhard says: “When the cell is intact, it impairs for example, the accumulation of thrombocytes. Furthermore it is involved, amongst others, in the regulation of blood flow.” If this system is damaged, then negative effects occur, such as atherosclerosis. Searching for a marker: “We have to help smokers”.

There are approximately one billion smokers in the world. “However, there is not one single therapy with medication that is specifically for smokers. Even smokers have to be helped”, says Bernhard. The details of the study, now able to be read in the current edition of the specialist publication “Cardiovascular Research”, are also going to be presented during the 9th Congress of the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases, which is taking place from the 21st to 23rd September 2011 in Vienna (MedUni Vienna’s Jugendstilhörsaal lecture theatre, Spitalgasse 23, 1090 Vienna) (Website & more information:

“Two worlds will collide there”, says Bernhard. “One which promotes that we should only support people in giving up, and another which is of the opinion that we also have to help those who cannot manage to give up smoking.” The study’s results are heading precisely in this direction. The next step is an in vivo test on animal models or in pathology samples. “The aim is to finally find a solid marker which reveals how much smoke a person has already been exposed to and the possibility of investigating how much has already accumulated in the cell.“


» “Cigarette Smoke Extract Induces Prolonged Endoplasmatic Reticulum Stress and Autophagic Cell Death in Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells“, published in Cardiovascular Research Advance Access , 14th June 2011. Authors: Adam Csordas, Simone Kreutmayer, Christian Ploner, Peter Braun, Alexander Karlas, Aleksandar Backovic, Georg Wick, David Bernhard.

» 9th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases - From Molecules to Politics; 21st to 23rd September 2011, MedUni Vienna’s Jugendstilhörsaal lecture theatre, Spitalgasse 23, 1090 Vienna;