Key blood vessel discoveries could aid patient recovery after heart attack, two CVS studies suggest

Professor Baker and Dr Brittan provide new insights into understanding blood vessels

Two new studies from the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, led by Professor Andrew Baker and Dr Mairi Brittan respectively, have shed light on the process of new blood vessel formation. This work highlights possible treatments which could improve blood supply and counteract the tissue damage done to the heart during a heart attack, when blood supply is blocked.  

We already know that other animals, like the zebrafish, can repair their heart muscle, and that’s what we want to be able to replicate in humans, enhancing the body’s own ability to regenerate tissues to repair the heart from within.

Dr Mairi Brittan
Research Fellow

Professor Baker’s group has developed a way to study endothelial cells, the cells that line the inner side of blood vessels. Endothelial cells play a key role in regenerating blood vessels and restoring blood flow to damaged heart tissue post-heart attack. Professor Baker's research group studied embroyonic stem cells – early stage cells that are not yet developed – and turned them into endothelial cells in the lab. The group then used a technique to visualise the genes that prompted these individual cells to become endothelial cells.

This study used new technology to map how endothelial cells are formed. We can now harness this information to understand how to activate these processes in patients or use these cells as a cell therapy approach by directly injecting them into damaged tissue.

Professor Andrew Baker
Head of Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh

Using a similar technique, Dr Brittan’s group has also been focusing its efforts on endothelial cells and blood vessel regeneration. They have studied the genes that determine whether or not new blood vessels networks are generated, and have created a comprehensive atlas of new gene targets that may influence this process.

Heart failure can be a distressing condition for patients and their families but it is becoming increasingly common with an ageing population and more people surviving after a heart attack. Our study used cutting-edge techniques to identify the genes that could ultimately help to regenerate the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle.

We’re now working to develop this project and to further study the new gene targets that we have identified with a view to eventually moving towards clinical studies.

Dr Mairi Brittan
Research Fellow
mouse model endothelial cells
Dr Brittan and colleagues used a novel “Confetti” mouse model, labelling endothelial cells with a green, red, yellow or cyan fluorescent protein to show that vascular regeneration after heart attack occurs through clonal proliferation of resident endothelial cells in the heart, with minimal contribution from the bone marrow.

One in three people around the world die from heart and circulatory diseases.1 Research—like the work being done by Professor Baker and Dr Brittan—is necessary in continuing the effort to combat cardiovascular disease.

Both Professor Baker’s and Dr Brittan’s work has been published in the European Heart Journal.


Related Links

Professor Andrew Baker's Journal Article - Transcriptional dynamics of pluripotent stem cell-derived endothelial cell differentiation revealed by single-cell RNA sequencing. European Heart Journal, 2019.

Dr Mairi Brittan's Journal Article - Single-cell transcriptome analyses reveal novel targets modulating cardiac neovascularization by resident endothelial cells following myocardial infarction. European Heart Journal ​​​​​​. European Heart Journal, 2019.

Andrew Baker - Profile

Mairi Brittan - Profile

1BHF Heart Statistics