Regulation of vascular growth

Prof. Sarah De Val

The goal of my laboratory is to understand how blood vessels grow, differentiate and regress through studying the transcriptional regulation of vascular genes.

The vascular system is a highly branched network of endothelial cell-lined tubes that transports blood, metabolites and waste products throughout the body. In addition to being essential for embryonic development, the formation of new blood vessels is required after injury, during tissue regrowth and repair, and for the growth and spread of solid tumours. However, our ability to manipulate vessel growth for therapeutic aims is hampered by a poor understanding of the mechanisms regulating vessel growth in both physiological and pathological contexts.

To study vessel regulation, my laboratory primarily focuses on the identification, characterization and delineation of enhancers (cis-regulatory elements) directing gene expression within the vasculature. Enhancers are densely clustered groups of transcription factor binding motifs and are the principal regulators of spatio-temporal patterns of gene transcription. Analysis of the proteins that activate and repress different enhancers is combined with genetic studies to accurately position these factors within complex signalling networks. We are using this approach to understand what makes blood vessels molecularly different from each other, to determine the signalling cascades involved at different stages of vessel growth, and to study these processes during tumour formation and growth.

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