inside the blood vessel, white blood cells inside the blood vessel, High quality 3d render of blood cells, Red and white blood cells in artery. Credit: urfinguss, courtesy of Getty Images

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of stroke and heart attacks worldwide – and one in four people have it. 

Now new research led by the University of Plymouth could identify how to target this condition and other blood vessel problems. Researchers will do this by focusing on vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC), the predominant components of blood vessels, and how they interact with myeloid cells, which are present in the blood circulation. 

Working with University College Dublin (UCD), Dr Vikram Sharma from the University of Plymouth’s Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine (ITSMed) is leading the work on the proteomic (protein) profile of VSMC, thanks to a £12,000 grant from the Royal Society. 

Myeloid cells are present in the blood circulation, and Dr Arun Kumar’s Stemcology group at UCD recently proved that they influence the contraction of VSMC. 

By understanding this interaction, it opens up new perspectives when exploring diseases associated with blood vessel malfunction, such as hypertension and atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. Unstable plaques are major cause of heart attack or stroke and currently scientists do not have any biomarkers (natural indicators) to identify them. 

Dr Sharma, who is in the University of Plymouth School of Biomedical Sciences, said: 

“We believe that looking at and comparing the proteomic profile has potential to identify novel biomarkers for identifying unstable plaques, or spot a therapeutic target for treating blood vessel complications in hypertension. We’re fortunate at Plymouth to have the advanced technological platform in our Proteomics Core Services Laboratory in the Systems Biology Facility to explore the crosstalk between myeloid cells and VSMC. Coupled with UCD’s expertise in cardiovascular pharmacology, this means we could get to the bottom of how to target blood vessel problems before they develop, potentially preventing heart attacks and stroke.” 

VSMC can exist in three forms – 1) proliferative (quickly growing) 2) intermediate or 3) contractile (capable of producing contractions). Quickly growing types of VSMC are relevant to atherosclerosis plaques, as their interaction with myeloid cells in the blood circulation may cause the plaque to become unstable. 

The interaction of myeloid cells with intermediate or contractile type of VSMC is reported to be responsible for blood vessel thickening in hypertension. So in this project, the team will evaluate the complete proteomic profile of the myeloid cells’ interaction with all three forms of VSMC. 

Dr Sharma continued: 

“The proteomic profile will be compared to identify myeloid cells or VSMC specific potential targets. This is a two-year project, so the data from this study will then be used to secure further funding to test and develop the targets identified in suitable translational models.”

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