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Sex and the City devotees may want to brush up on their algebra before they go shopping for their next pair of Manolo Blahniks. Mathematically inclined scientists at the Institute of Physics in London have devised a back-of-the-envelope (and slightly tongue-in-cheek) formula to help a woman determine just how high her heels can go before she topples over. Among the variables: number of years' experience wearing towering heels, time elapsed since the shoe was the height of fashion, and number of social cocktails the wearer plans to imbibe.
Despite scattered progress in funding embryonic stem-cell research at the state level (notably in California, which passed a $3 billion stem-cell bond measure), political pressure at the national level kept such research on the back burner. Meanwhile, there were several advances in the effort to get adult stem cells to work like embryonic stem cells (which can morph into any type of cell in the body). One small study involved heart patients undergoing bypass surgery. In half the patients, stem cells harvested from bone marrow in their hipbones were injected into their damaged heart tissue. The results were encouraging, but researchers don't know whether the stem cells transformed into new heart muscle, increased blood-vessel formation or somehow coaxed existing heart cells to become more active. Researchers are finding new sources of adult stem cells, including fat cells, skin, the brain and periodontal ligaments, the fibrous tendons that hold teeth in their sockets.
Why are some people hopelessly addicted to cigarettes, while others can seemingly quit at will? It may be, suggests recent research, that in those unlucky individuals who appear to be "born to smoke," nicotine triggers a pattern of brain activity that makes kicking the habit practically impossible. This strong neurobiological reaction to nicotine appears to be associated with hostile personalities marked by anger, aggression and anxiety.
If that's not scary enough, scientists pursuing another line of research believe they have found a physiological reason why nicotine and alcohol so often share each other's company. Even a small quantity of alcohol seems to significantly boost the pleasurable effects of nicotine. The numbers certainly won't comfort smoking barflies: 80% to 90% of alcoholics smoke, and alcoholism is 10 times as prevalent among smokers as among nonsmokers.
Doctors have known for a decade that statin drugs can prevent or reduce the severity of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood levels of LDL. But how low is low enough? A landmark study of more than 4,000 heart patients compared a standard LDL-lowering regimen (40 mg of Pravachol) with an intensive regimen (80 mg of Lipitor) and found that even though both reduced LDL levels to below the recommended benchmark of 100 mg/dL, the patients on the higher dose were 16% less likely than those on the lower dose to get worse or die. The bottom line: what was once thought to be a laudable treatment target may not be good enough. Even by the current standard, less than one-third of the 36 million Americans who should be on statins are actually taking them.