How do blood vessels become hardened with calcium?

A role for mechano-signalling in vascular calcification

Catherine M Shanahan (lead researcher)

King's College London

Start date: 01 October 2015 (Duration 3 years)

Supervised by Professor Catherine Shanahan, this PhD student is studying a process called vascular calcification, when arteries stiffen and harden. This can lead to heart attacks and high blood pressure. During calcification, blood vessel muscle cells change and become like bone cells, depositing calcium or other minerals in the vessel wall.

Professor Shanahan has previously researched how calcification affects the extracellular matrix – a mix of molecules that provides structural support to surrounding cells. As the vessel wall gets stiffer, this matrix sends signals that make the surrounding cells become even more like bone cells and calcification quickly gets worse. These signals could be triggered by increased cell stretching or straining due to high blood pressure, or because of increased matrix stiffening with ageing.

In this project, the student will compare young and old cells to find out how stiffening of the vessel wall causes muscle cells to become like bone, and how this leads to vessel wall calcification.

This research may detect when a stiff artery becomes toxic to the surrounding cells so we could intervene with new treatments to prevent further damage. This could lead to new treatments for people with high blood pressure that doesn’t improve with current drugs, particularly in the elderly.

Project details

Grant amount £116,228
Grant type Fellowship
Application type PhD Studentship
Start Date 01 October 2015
Duration 3 years
Reference FS/15/47/31646
Status In progress

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