Increased cholesterol levels and inflammation are responsible for development, progression and complications of atherosclerosis, a disease of medium and large arteries. Current medications to treat patients with atherosclerosis target cholesterol, which only reduces heart attack and stroke risk by 40 per cent. Despite changes in lifestyles and cholesterol-lowering drugs, heart attacks and strokes due to atherosclerosis are still the most common cause of death. Furthermore, recurrent heart attacks and strokes occur frequently in patients following an initial heart attack orstroke with high mortality. Recent studies suggest that this is due to accelerated atherosclerosis. Deaths due to heart attacks and strokes constitute >20 per cent of global mortality, accounting for about 12 million deaths annually which the World Health Organisation projects will rise even further in the future.
New therapeutic approaches to reduce atherosclerosis are urgently needed to reduce deaths due to heart attacks and strokes. It is now recognised that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disorder of blood vessels involving cholesterol. Understanding how immune cells regulate development and progression of atherosclerosis is essential for developing new therapies. Immune responses are the outcomes of a balance between pathogenic and regulatory components. The Vascular Biology and Atherosclerosis laboratory has identified key immune cells that promote atherosclerosis, i.e. NKT cells, B2 cells, CD8 T cells and immune cells that protect against atherosclerosis, and B1a cells and regulatory T cells. We are interested in understanding the role of immune system (both cellular and molecular components) in atherosclerosis to develop immune cell-targeted or cytokine-targeted therapies to reduce inflammation and atherosclerosis. Immune cell-targeted therapy will selectively deplete pathogenic immune cells and/or expand and activate the regulatory immune cells.
Projects carried out in the laboratory are ideal for postgraduate students (PhD/MSc) as they provide ‘state of the art' training in immunology, cardiovascular biology, cardiovascular pathology and pharmacology, with supervisors who are world experts in immunology, cell biology, pathology and pharmacology.
Research in the Vascular Biology and Atherosclerosis laboratory focuses primarily on atherosclerosis and its regulation by immune cells. Specifically:
- Immunopathogenesis of atherosclerosis.
- Pathogenic immune cells and cytokines in atherosclerosis.
- Protective immune cells in atherosclerosis.
- Immune mechanisms accelerating atherosclerosis in hypertension and post myocardial infarction.
- Immune mechanisms regulating cardiac fibrosis in hypertension.
- Immune-based therapies in the management of atherosclerosis and cardiac fibrosis.