Study Points to Angioplasty's Viability

Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

New devices using lasers, scoops and blades to open clogged arteries are no better than balloon angioplasty, according to a study in the March 1 Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In the latter procedure, a balloon is inflated inside the artery to flatten plaque, compressing it against the walls of the artery. The other techniques remove plaque.

Dr. Spencer King of Emory University in Atlanta compared the success rates of patients in two registries that track the outcomes of such procedures. After one year of follow-up of each patient, he found no overall advantage for the new techniques. "The message from the study is to watch out for unbridled enthusiasm," he said.

One treatment that did provide an advantage, however, was the use of stents--wire-mesh devices inserted into the newly opened arteries to prevent them from closing again.

Enzyme May Increase Risk of Alzheimer's

A previously discovered enzyme whose only known function is destroying a cancer drug called bleomycin also confers increased susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease, a team from the University of Pittsburgh reported in the Feb. 28 Nature Genetics. The gene exists in two forms, called G and A, and those with the G version are four times as likely to develop Alzheimer's.

Another gene, which serves as the blueprint for a protein called ApoE4, has previously been shown to increase the risk for Alzheimer's in some patients. But about 40% of Alzheimer's patients do not have that gene. The bleomycin hydrolase gene is present in many of the patients who do not have the ApoE4 gene and will permit increased screening for susceptibility to the disorder, which affects as many as 4 million Americans.

Sexual Abuse of Girls Could Lead to Their Promiscuity

Girls who are sexually abused are more susceptible to promiscuous behavior and early pregnancy than those who are not, according to the first long-term study tracking the behavior of abused girls. USC psychologist Penelope K. Trickett and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health studied 160 girls in the Washington, D.C., area who were between 6 and 16 years old when the study began. Half had been sexually abused, half had not.

Trickett reported Feb. 26 at a meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence in San Diego that girls who were abused became sexually active at a younger age, were more likely to have babies and more likely to have them at a younger age.

The sexually abused girls reported their first intercourse at an average age of 14.6, compared to 15.6 for those not abused, and gave birth at an average age of 18, compared to 20 for the girls who were not abused. Twenty-four percent of the abused group had at least one child, compared to only 9% of the comparison group, and they had a mean of 1.9 children, compared to a mean of 1.3 in the comparison group.

Men Thought to Be Infertile Provide Sperm in 3 Births

Three test-tube babies have been born using sperm from men who have a genetic defect that causes infertility and afflicts one in every 500 males. The children, two boys and a girl, are the first to be born to men suffering from a severe form of Klinefelter's syndrome, researchers from New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center reported in the Feb. 26 New England Journal of Medicine.

Klinefelter's causes a man to produce very few sperm because he has at least one extra female chromosome. The severe form makes men infertile. The researchers surgically removed pieces of the men's testicles, used a microscope to look for healthy-looking sperm, extracted them in a centrifuge, and individually fertilized eggs taken from their partners. The embryos were then implanted into the women.

U.S. Death Patterns Aren't Surprising

Most Americans die unremarkable deaths--in hospitals, of heart disease--according to a report released Feb. 26. The study by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first detailed examination of patterns of death in more than 10 years, but it turned up few surprises.

"The majority of deaths (56%) occur in a hospital, clinic or medical center; 19%, in a nursing home; and some 21% of people died at home," the NCHS said in a statement. "One-quarter of decedents have had a heart attack and about an equal number had angina," it said. "Over 40% were reported to have had hypertension." About a third had cancer.

Also unsurprisingly in an aging population, many were limited in their last year of life. One in 10 were in bed due to illness or injury for the last year, and half had physical or mental limitations of some kind.

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