The predictability of cardiovascular diseases can be improved through research into intercellular communication. In a high-risk project funded by the Academy of Finland, a research team led by researcher Cecilia Sahlgren from Åbo Akademi University is studying the formation of blood vessels and looking for new blood vessel regulation mechanisms. The research is focused on the communication between the cells in the vascular system.
“Intercellular communication plays an important role in the formation of blood vessels and in the adjustment of tissue to changes in blood circulation,” explains Sahlgren.
According to Sahlgren, the effect of blood circulation on the communication mechanisms of cells, for example, is still fairly obscure, because the topic is difficult to study through regular cell cultures or living organisms. The research group uses new methods to examine cell communication.
“To understand the nature of the relevant connections, we need new model systems – such as small artificial blood vessels – that can regulate circulation and follow intercellular communication. With the blood vessel micro-tissue that we have developed in collaboration with engineers, we can control circulation and monitor cell communication. The models and computer simulations help us understand how the connections govern tissue formation and structure. These methods also give us information about diseases caused by changes in blood circulation.”
Contributions to the treatment of cardiovascular diseases
Cardiovascular diseases are among the most common causes of death in the Western countries. In order to better understand and predict these diseases, it is important to obtain new information on the re-formation of blood vessels and tissue. However, Sahlgren says that we are still a long way from fully understanding the connections between cell communication and mechanical effects.
“The new information obtained through our research can have applications in the future. It can, for example, provide physicians, researchers and constructors of blood vessels with a calculation tool that can be used to predict the reconstruction of blood vessels in natural circulation. In this way, it can help develop planning guidelines for tissue technology and medical treatment,” Sahlgren says.
Even so, Sahlgren stresses that the team’s studies are basic research, the long-term objectives of which are to understand and improve human health.
“We’re not focusing on a certain disease; using new methods, we’re studying the basis of and the basic functions in the formation of tissue. The research teaches us new things about the structure and functions of the human body. The greatest imaginable risk in our research is that we won’t find a connection between intercellular communication and mechanical effects.”
Risk project already bearing fruit
In Sahlgren’s opinion, risk-taking and complex scientific questions call for innovative and creative solutions.
“Medical progress cannot occur without risk-taking. Risks are needed to achieve something new and revolutionary. In my opinion, risk financing is important, particularly to young researchers who are in the process of building their own research team. With this funding, young researchers can begin to address scientifically complex and technically challenging questions.”
Sahlgren is happy to reveal that their research is already bearing fruit.
“Our high-risk project has already led to international and interdisciplinary collaboration with engineers and researchers in the field of biotechnology.”
Finnish text by Anna-Riikka Oravakangas
Photo by Bart van Overbeeke
- Academy of Finland supports scientific risk-taking with purpose-made funding (Academy press release, 2 Sep 2015)