More than 4,000 chemicals make up cigarette smoke, and many of them can damage a person's health. But the bte noire of the lot is nicotine, a compound that is simultaneously pleasure-inducing, addictive, and–at high doses–poisonous. A new study adds another trait: Nicotine in mice has spawned the growth of new blood vessels and thus promoted cancer.
Blood vessel formation, or angiogenesis, can play a positive or negative role in health. Some researchers are inducing angiogenesis in heart-disease patients to help them rebuild damaged heart muscle (SN: 2/28/98, p. 132). Meanwhile, scientists fighting cancer are trying to thwart angiogenesis and
thus the flow of oxygen and nourishment to tumors.
In the new study, the researchers had assumed that nicotine would impair angiogenesis. "We went into this study with the wrong hypothesis," says John P. Cooke, a cardiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. To his surprise, laboratory cultures of human