Vascular Imaging Group
IMAGE-INATIVE NEW APPROACHES TO TACKLE CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
Our Scientific Drive
Understanding Blood Pressure & Cardiovascular Disease
Blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood that pushes against the walls of arteries. While blood pressure rises and falls normally, prolonged high blood pressure, called hypertension, can cause serious health problems such as heart failure, stroke, and kidney damage. High blood pressure is becoming increasingly common and predisposes ~1.5 billion people in the world to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, accounting for 31% of deaths globally. It is estimated that the annual financial cost of hypertension is £2.1 billion to the NHS and $131 billion in the United States. New ways to control hypertension are required urgently.
Our research involves the development and use of state-of-the-art techniques to try and understand what changes occur in blood vessels contributing to cardiovascular disease, and how these changes might be resolved.
The Brain of the Cardiovascular System
Sustained hypertension occurs because of a change in the way blood vessels work. All arteries and veins contain three layers; the outer layer is connective tissue that supports the vessel, the middle layer contains the smooth muscle cells which allows the artery to quickly contract and relax to alter blood flow, changing blood pressure. The innermost layer is called the endothelium. Although the endothelium consists of only a single layer of cells, just a few microns thick, it is a sophisticated control centre for the cardiovascular system. By receiving, filtering and processing an enormous volume of incoming signals, the endothelium is able to control almost every element of cardiovascular function. Cardiovascular disease occurs predominantly as a result of dysfunction within the endothelium.
Studying the Endothelium
Hypertension and hypertension-induced disorders occur when the endothelium and muscle do not work properly. However, the causes and mechanisms that result in the endothelium and muscle not working properly are unclear.
The endothelium is notoriously difficult to study as the cells reside on the innermost face of blood vessels, many of which are very small and inaccessible. We have developed advanced technologies and analysis methods to visualize and study the endothelium, finding previously unknown complexities in vascular function that offer new avenues for therapy development and help explain why some existing approaches have failed.