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School of Biotechnology

Dr. Emma Harper, lead author on the recent publication

SoBT Researchers Publish Key Findings in Cardiovascular Disease Progression

Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, are the number one cause of death globally amounting to an estimated 17.9 million mortalities, or 31% of all global deaths, annually. While most cardiovascular diseases can be substantially prevented by addressing certain behaviours such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity, some populations who present unmodifiable risk factors are at higher cardiovascular risk. Examples of these include populations who present with type-2 diabetes, which currently amounts to 5% of the Irish population.

As such there is there is a societal need for those at a higher risk to have adequate means of early detection of cardiovascular complication, and subsequent forms of management and treatment of such. Recently the Cummin’s group within the School of Biotechnology, in collaboration with partners from Beaumont Hospital and with the support of the Irish Research Council, have added to the knowledge in this area in publishing their recent findings on the vascular calcification process in this setting.  

‘Vascular calcification can generally be described as a form of progressive arterial hardening that results in reduced elasticity of blood vessels’ describes Dr. Emma Harper; lead author on the recently published study. ‘This phenomena is prevalent in type-2 diabetics and there is a correlation between this “hardening of the blood vessels” and acute cardiovascular complications’. 

Calcification is a phenomenon primarily associated with bone formation whereby cells known as osteoblasts use circulating calcium and phosphates to undergo mineralisation and form rigid structures, but research emanating from the Cummin’s group and others in recent years has shown these mineralisation proteins can also impact on the muscle layers that envelope the larger vessels of the circulatory system, reducing the protective influence they can exert on neighbouring blood vessels and ultimately disrupting vascular homeostasis.  In their recent publication, the group highlight the importance of highly reactive oxygen molecules, or reactive oxygen species as they’re more commonly known, in this process.

‘The over-production of reactive oxygen species is recognised as a key event in cardiovascular-related disease progression, but the breadth of their action is ever-growing as more and more research is conducted in this area. By inhibiting the action of these molecules using vasoprotective molecules such as TRAIL in our models of diabetic vascular disease, we were able to significantly ablate the pro-calcific signals known to promote calcification in the muscle layer, with subsequent improved outcomes for the neighbouring vessel wall’.

‘The information from this study highlights the incredible potential of emerging therapeutic molecules such as TRAIL in the treatment of diabetic-related cardiovascular disease, and could form the basis for new and improved therapeutic strategies towards the management of such’.

For more information, the group’s latest publication can be viewed here.  


2nd March, 2020
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