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World No Tobacco Day 2011 – MedUni Vienna with its research focus of “Arteriosclerosis caused by tobacco smoke”

(Vienna, 31st May 2011) The WHO’s World No Tobacco Day is today celebrating its 25th anniversary. In addition to lung diseases and numerous other diseases caused by tobacco smoke, there is also the particular problem of arteriosclerosis. How the highly toxic substance cadmium and other smoke substances lead to the development of this dangerous cardiopulmonary disease is being researched by the MedUni Vienna in the research laboratory of the Department of Heart Surgery.

Around 4,000 different molecules are detected in the smoke from each cigarette. Approximately 100 of these substances are carcinogenic. These substances (free radicals, oxidants and polycyclic hydrocarbons) damage the cell DNA and in doing so form the basis of numerous cancers. Another substance group, the metal ions, which are found in cigarette smoke, has been the dedicated focus of the ten-person research laboratory of the MedUni Vienna’s Department of Heart Surgery.

Cadmium causes arteriosclerosis: the first evidence in the world provided by MedUni Vienna’s researchers
The particular attention of the Viennese researchers was focused on the cadmium contained in tobacco smoke. David Bernhard had already provided evidence for the dangerous effect of this highly toxic metal in 2009. Cadmium has only recently been banned in the EU for use in jewellery, soldering alloys and in PVC due to its properties which are dangerous to human organisms. Nevertheless every person ingests the very rare chemical element each day through eating, drinking and even breathing. “You cannot prevent this natural intake. However, smokers are voluntarily taking in, on average, twice as much cadmium as non-smokers through tobacco smoke”, explains Dr. David Bernhard, Director of the Research Laboratory of Med Uni Vienna’s Department of Heart Surgery.

As Bernhard and his team were able to prove scientifically for the first time in the world, the cadmium found in tobacco smoke leads to severe damage of blood vessel walls. This damage is the scientifically generally recognized cause for the development of cardiopulmonary diseases. “It is frightening how quickly the damage occurs. We could find evidence of an increased cadmium level even in 22-year-old smokers, which has a direct correlation with early damage of vessel walls”, says Bernhard regarding one of the research findings.

Fatal mechanism: destruction of the blood vessel endothelium
Cadmium has a definite effect on the so-called blood vessel endothelium. This concerns the innermost layer of the vessel wall of all blood vessels, which is the layer nearest the bloodstream. In recent years, research projects have shown very clearly that functional disorders of this endothelium are the starting point for arteriosclerosis.

The cadmium found in tobacco smoke leads to necrotic cell death through the destruction of the blood vessel endothelium. During this the cell bursts, and its contents are released into the surroundings. As a result, inflammations occur, which lead to arteriosclerosis and ultimately to cardiopulmonary diseases. In addition the endothelium can no longer fulfil important functions. For example, in order to act as the signal platform for the communication of the organs with the immune system, or in order to protect against the onset of thrombosis.

New scientific findings shortly before publication
Currently the research laboratory of the MedUni Vienna’s Department of Heart Surgery could provide further scientific evidence for the damage of tobacco smoke. Substances in tobacco smoke lead to endothelial cells digesting themselves (also referred to as autophagia) and thereby, similar to the effect of cadmium, cause vascular damage and inflammations. The corresponding study is currently in the last phase of scientific assessment and is likely to be published in the coming weeks.

Arteriosclerosis, one of the most severe consequences of tobacco consumption
Smoking and passive smoking kill human lives to such an extent as only wars do. Tobacco consumption worldwide is responsible for more than 6 million premature deaths each year. A much higher number of people also suffer from often severe chronic diseases which are attributable to tobacco consumption.

It is generally known that smoking and passive smoking lead to severe diseases of the lungs. However tobacco smoke also leads furthermore to calcification of the arteries which is called arteriosclerosis. This gradually developing, severe systemic disease of the arteries progresses over the years and decades without any symptoms until they become manifest through thrombosis, angina pectoris, heart attack, stroke or sudden death. The consequences of arteriosclerosis are the number 1 cause of death in Western industrialised nations.

International Conference on the subject of smoking in 2011 in Vienna
The “International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases” chose Vienna as this year’s venue of its annual conference. The aim of this society with members from every continent is the worldwide prevention of diseases which are induced by tobacco. The conference provides participants with the possibility of extensive information. The range of subjects extends from basic research and its clinical relevance and the treatment of smokers to the sociological, social and political aspects. The conference begins on 21st September 2011 and continues until 23rd September. After the conference has been held in recent years in Japan, Canada, the USA and Hong Kong amongst others, this year it is taking place at Vienna’s Billrothhaus (Frankgasse 8, 1090 Vienna).

» Registration „International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases“

» Publication: Cigarette Smoke Toxicity: Linking Individual Chemicals to Human Diseases, David Benhard (Editor)

» Severe fine particulate matter pollution through cigarette smoke